- Today is the United Nations' International Youth Day
- Betty, five, has raised over £32,000 doing a gruelling cycling challenge
- Imogen, ten, is the brainchild of a mind-blowing keepy-uppie quest
“Betty couldn’t wait for her trip to Disneyland Paris – it’s all she talked about,” said her father, Lee.
COVID-19 shattered that dream. The small silver lining is that the nickel-brass £1 coins the five-year-old had saved to spend at the adventure park could now be spent on Blume Dolls, Bubble Drops or Disney Princess Lego. You'd think so, wouldn't you?
“My wife’s mum works at a hospice, and Betty heard my wife saying how much they were struggling,” Lee told FIFA.com. “Betty said she wanted to give the £7 she had saved to help.
“So my wife said, ‘Why don’t we try and let Betty raise some more money for the hospice by riding her bike. I was just teaching Betty how to ride a bike. She was still using stabilisers but next thing there was a target to cycle a mile per day for 100 days!"
Lee Allinson, whose father Ian played for Arsenal in the 1980s and who himself manages Hendon FC in the English seventh tier, then iced the idea.
He explained: “I said, ‘Why don’t we try and do it in a different football shirt every day.’ So I wrote to some clubs, put it on Twitter, and it just took off from there.”
As Betty’s tiny legs began to pedal her bicycle for one mile every day, the football world began to take note.
“It went off!” said Lee. “We got sent shirts from David Beckham, Ashley Young, Robin van Persie, Russell Martin, Dominic Ball, Bukayo Saka.
“Clubs from all over the country sent us shirts – from the Premier League to non-league. Elgin City sent us a shirt from Scotland, a couple of Northern Ireland teams sent us shirts, The Bradley Lowery Foundation sent us a Sunderland shirt, which meant a lot. We got 122 shirts in the end – unbelievable.”
The most unbelievable thing to Lee was a video message he received from one of the biggest celebrities on the planet. Beckham said: "I can’t believe you are still going a mile every day on that bike, you are going to be so fit and raise so much money. Keep going, we're all so proud of you. You are so, so amazing!”
“It was a funny one," Lee said. "[Hendon] had a game in the County Cup and I must have been talking about it a lot. When Beckham sent the video, I jumped out of bed on a Sunday morning, I couldn’t believe my eyes!
“I woke Betty up and screamed, ‘Betty, we’ve got a video from David Beckham!’ She said, ‘Is that bigger than the Country Cup, dad?’ (laughs) Just a little bit!
“He said he was going to send us a shirt, but we thought, ‘The video is already fantastic – David Beckham won’t have time to remember to send the shirt’. It arrived two days later, believe or not. Brand-new Inter Miami shirt.
“He’d gone out of his way, signed the shirt to Betty personally. He must be one of the busiest men in the world – to go out of his way and do something like that was amazing.”
And if Beckham surpassed the Allinson's wildest dreams, so too has the amount Betty has raised for Garden House Hospice.
“We aimed to raise £250, but that was raised within 11 minutes,” said Lee. “So we then put it to £500, but that was done within the hour. So then we kind of just went with it, and it just kept going up and up and up – £1,000, £2,500, £5,000. We’re now at £32,500 – it’s absolutely fantastic. We're so, so proud of her."
"I loved getting my David Beckham shirt and going through puddles," Betty, giggling, told FIFA.com. "Raising money was good. Now I'm going to rest."
Betty is not the only kid who has used her feet to kick up a heart-warming tale in these testing times. In the run-up to his 100th birthday in April, Captain Tom Moore walked 100 laps of his 25-metre garden to try and raise £1,000 to thank the NHS [National Health Service], to whom he felt indebted following his recovery from cancer and a broken hip. He ultimately raised over £32 million as the UK and beyond was left in awe. Tom was duly honoured by Beckham on behalf of the England national team, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II after a deafening public clamour.
“At the beginning of lockdown, I saw Captain Tom walking around his garden, and I also wanted to do something to thank all the key workers in the country,” Imogen Papworth-Heidel, ten, told FIFA.com. “So I thought I would do one keepy-uppie for each one of them.
“I went on Google and found there were 7.1 million key workers in the country. It came as quite a shock. I thought, ‘That’s going to take me a long time!’”
The ten-year-old didn’t realise just how much time.
“Imogen asked how long it would take to reach 7.1 million keepy-uppies if she did 200 a day,” said her father, Karl. “We told her it would take 97 years – she’d be older than Captain Tom by the time she finished!”
Rather than abandon the idea, Imogen, who’s on the books of Cambridge United’s youth development academy, stated she would do as many as possible each day and ask for help from others. She’s personally spent around two hours per day, for the past five months, hiking the total.
“Imogen’s been really touched by all the help,” said Karl. “One lady, on the day she’d finished chemo, she was in the garden doing keepy-uppies for us. One gentleman actually did keepy-uppies in the hospital, by his bed. And all the disability groups who’s been involved helping. There was one person with only one leg doing keepy-uppies."
“It’s made me so happy,” added Imogen. No contribution made the youngster happier than one 500-keepy-uppie donation.”
“We were on a phone call and Imogen didn’t know it, but Lucy Bronze was going to come on and pledge some keepy-uppies,” said Karl. When she came on the call, Imogen got all embarrassed and…
“Daaaaaad,” snapped Imogen, equally flustered at her father’s revelation, as both erupted in laughter.
“It was so amazing,” continued Imogen. “I was in shock, jumping up and down. I love the Lionesses and Lucy Bronze is my favourite player.
“She was so, so nice. She gave me some tips. I couldn’t believe I was talking to Lucy Bronze on the phone!
“Alex Scott was amazing too, and Gary Lineker retweeted us. I watch Match of the Day all the time, and I really like Gary Lineker – he’s really cool. It was just such a shock. We’re so, so grateful for all the messages and keepy-uppie donations.
“I’ve done 770,784 myself. We’ve received keepy-uppie donations of 5,174, 958. The total done stands at 5,945,742 – we’ve got about one-and-a-half million keepy-uppies to go. We’ve raised £9,215 for charity – it’s absolutely amazing.”
The theme of International Youth Day 2020 is youth engagement enriching institutions and processes. Betty Allinson and Imogen Papworth-Heidel are indubitably enriching football and society.