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Inspirational Jack Charlton's granddaughter carries on football legend's legacy by helping children in war-torn Syria

'Football can be a powerful force in breaking down barriers and overcoming deeply entrenched problems'

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Big Jack and his granddaughter Kate

Big Jack and his granddaughter Kate

Big Jack and his granddaughter Kate

The granddaughter of football legend Jack Charlton has revealed how she’s carrying on Jack’s legacy by using football to help children in war-torn Syria. 

Speaking on the anniversary of her beloved grandad’s death, Glasgow-based Kate Wilkinson said her grandad would have been proud of the part football is playing on giving kids hope of a better future.

“The role that sport can play in building unity amongst people and building respect, is personified by what happened with my grandad managing and getting Ireland to Italia 90,” said Kate (27), a Programme Manager at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

“He somehow managed to overcome huge tensions over an Englishman taking the Ireland job on. Football can be a powerful force in breaking down barriers and overcoming the most deeply entrenched problems.

“Hearing about these stories from Grandad struck a chord in me. He inspired me to want to work in an industry that could help people and be a unifying force for good in the world. So, given I couldn’t kick a ball to save my life, I chose international aid.”

Kate heads a team supporting the UK Government’s biggest ever humanitarian response.

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Kate is a Programme Manager at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. 

Kate is a Programme Manager at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. 

Kate is a Programme Manager at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. 

Between April 2020 and March 2021, the UK provided over 240,000 Syrian pupils with access to quality literacy and numeracy schooling, including through the Syria Education Programme, which also includes football and other sporting activities.

Some schools also offer a football tournament as part of an end of semester ceremony and sport is also used during summer camps, to support children to recover from the psychological strain of the conflict.

“The support the UK is providing, in education and psychosocial support, will have a huge impact on these children’s lives and we can all be proud of that,” Kate added.

As part of her work, Kate helped arrange for Foreign Office Minister Wendy Morton to visit the crucial Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria last week.

Former Leeds defender Jack - a World Cup winner with England - is a legend in Ireland after managing them to a golden era of international success, including the World Cup quarter-final in 1990.

The charismatic Geordie sadly died from lymphoma on July 10 last year, aged 85, after also living with dementia in later life.

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Kate admits she’d never really truly appreciated her grandad’s impact until she watched the BBC documentary Finding Jack Charlton earlier this year.

She said: “I don’t think I saw him at all as a famous person – he was just grandad. I was born in 1994, but I was too young to realise. I’d heard stories about his footballing days, but when the documentary came out, I was amazed to see his accomplishments.”

Kate, who was with Jack on the day he passed away, added: “The family had gathered to be with him because we knew it was imminent and I saw him just a couple of hours he passed away.

“I take comfort in that he always remembered me. He’d ask me again and again right until the end if I was still living in Scotland. He’d always loved Scotland so it must have struck a chord. They used to holiday there a lot. He had friends in Dumfries and used to fish off Arran. He liked Glaswegian football fans and his testimonial for Leeds was against Celtic.”

Thousands of well-wishers lined the streets of Jack’s hometown in Ashington, Northumberland to pay their respects on the day of his funeral last summer.

“Someone suggested we do a procession through Ashington on the day of his funeral and thousands of people came out. It was unbelievable. Grandad would have loved that, so I think although the funeral was small, the procession made it feel like a special day.”

The UK has committed over £3.7billion to supporting the 11 million Syrians forced to flee their homes since civil war erupted 10 years ago. The UK is urging fellow UN Security Council members to keep the border crossing open for vital humanitarian aid deliveries, amid fears Russia could veto the move at a vote on July 10. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the UK provided over 240,000 Syrian pupils with access to quality literacy and numeracy schooling, including through the Syria Education Programme, which also includes football and other sporting activities.

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