Ponteland Middle School netted a football legend for the official opening of its state-of-the-art sporting facility.
It took two-and-a-half years to raise the £447,000 required for the outdoor 9x9 artificial football pitch, which is located on land next to the old railway line.
And there was great excitement among the pupils as the surprise guest of honour was Alan Shearer, who wore the number nine shirt for Newcastle United and England.
Dozens of them were wearing black or white to form a Newcastle United shirt human logo.
The facility consists of one nine-a-side pitch, one seven-a-side pitch and three five-a-side pitches.
It will be available to the wider community through adult football leagues and junior leagues, as well as being an asset for the schools in the Ponteland Partnership and local sports clubs.
Ponteland Middle School headteacher Caroline Pryer spent a lot of time putting the bid together with help from others including Ponteland United FC’s joint chairman Alan Birkinshaw.
She said: “This is an absolutely fantastic day as we’ve waited a long time for a facility like this in Ponteland.
“It fulfils a need for the schools, local clubs and the wider community.
“There were periods of doubt because we had to raise an enormous amount of money and it’s not the sort of day-to-day job you would expect at a school, but thanks to the tremendous efforts of everyone involved with the project, we were able to reach our target.
“We did all this for the children and it was great seeing their faces when Alan Shearer turned up.
“He was lovely with the pupils and our Newcastle United human logo was a nice tribute to his football achievements.
“Alan visited the school in 2013 and when we told him about the project, he said ‘don’t try, do it!’
“They were very inspirational words and him being able to come back here for the official opening was the icing on the cake.
“I’m very grateful to the school governors for having faith in me to fulfil the project, the Ponteland Middle School Friends’ Association (it organised a ‘Night with the Stars’ ball which raised £6,000 with matched funding from Barclays) and senior leaders Paul Baggett and Joanne Cafferty for their inspiration and support.”
The other people she thanked included Mark Woodhall from the Northumberland FA and Kathie Keady from North Country Leisure.
The final stage before the pitch could be constructed was a 30-day trapping exercise for great crested newts, working with EcoNorth and Natural England, in case any decided to hibernate on the field.
None were found during the period – only one vole and one shrew were found. To encourage the newts to remain by the pond, the school’s eco team created refugia and hibernacula by the pond area.
Construction took about three months and it was used for the first time on February 23.
At the opening, Shearer said: “I never had anything like this at my school when I was your age, so you can consider yourselves very lucky to have this fantastic facility.
“Use it, cherish it and if you have a dream, go ahead and achieve that dream just like the school and Ponteland United did with this pitch and just like I did to become a professional footballer.”
Ponteland United started investigating the possibility of an artificial pitch at the leisure centre site six years ago, so games and training could still take place when grass pitches were waterlogged, but the project did not get off the ground.
Mr Birkinshaw said: “When we heard a few years ago that Ponteland Middle School was having waterlogged pitch issues and were interested in having an artificial pitch, we started discussions with Caroline and it quickly became clear that a site at the school was the preferred location for the national bodies involved because it would be used throughout the day.
“We made a financial contribution and we needed to be involved so that funding would come from the football authorities. Last summer, we were delighted to hear that the school had been successful in its fund-raising and we’re thrilled that the facility has now been built.
“It gives us increased flexibility when it comes to training, which is very important given how much the junior section has grown in recent years, and younger age groups have already played matches on the surface.
“The feedback from the players and coaches is that the pitch is first class and no problems have been reported.
“It’s also great for us that the school caretaker, who lives on site, has been extremely helpful on the evenings when our teams use the pitch.”
• A drone video of the pitch opening and shirt human logo has been made by The Daedalus Group. As this is a community project, it was done for free.
You can see the video at https://vimeo.com/125473112