Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa

A group of local schoolchildren are getting a taste of life as Premier League stars this week after winning the opportunity to represent Newcastle United at a national football competition.

Youngsters from John Spence Community High School and St Alban's RC Primary School successfully negotiated regional heats in March to win a spot at the Premier League Schools Tournament, which takes place at Anfield - the home of Liverpool - on Thursday.

A mixed under-11s team from St Alban's School and a girls' under-13s team from John Spence are now on their way to Merseyside aboard the Club's official first team bus, along with coaches from the Newcastle United Foundation who ran the city's heats for 20 schools at Walker Activity Dome and have provided full Newcastle United kits for the tournament.

The children were waved off from St. James' Park by current Magpies star Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who was on hand to pass on his best wishes on behalf of his United teammates.

"The children were very excited so it was nice to see them before they travelled and to wish them luck," said the French international centre-back.

"As a child, it is a dream to play for your club and to play at famous stadiums so this tournament is a great way for them to enjoy that experience. I'm sure they will have a great time."

The Premier League Schools Tournament is designed to increase participation in football for both boys and girls and offers schools nationwide the chance to team up with their local Premier League club.

The children will be competing against schools representing 19 other Premier League clubs, with 1,000 spectators expected through the Anfield turnstiles.

Teams will emerge for their games from the stadium tunnel - complete with the official Premier League player entrance music, before the victors lift a replica Premier League trophy.

Marc Burnip, PE teacher, at John Spence School said: "The Girls from John Spence Community High School really enjoyed the regional competition and are so happy they won.

"I am so proud of my players for their effort, enthusiasm and commitment since the beginning of the year. We are looking forward to the national competition at Anfield and the girls are determined to do well and do the best they can when representing Newcastle United."

Lisa Bell, Newcastle United Foundation Premier League 4 Sport co-ordinator, added: "The heats in March were great spectacles of sport at its very best. The events were great examples of how school sport can retain its competitive edge whilst still being played in a positive, sporting and enjoyable environment.

"Credit must go to all of the players and teachers involved. John Spence and St Albans have earned the right to represent Newcastle United Football Club in the national finals at Anfield and we are very confident that both will have an experience that they will never forget."

To find out more about how the Newcastle United Foundation works with children from across the region, visit www.nufc.co.uk/foundation.