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Villa star 'will never forget Solihull roots'

ASTON Villa midfielder Craig Gardner is bucking the trend of modern day prima donna footballers by remembering the boyhood team who helped him on his way to stardom.

ASTON Villa midfielder Craig Gardner is bucking the trend of modern day prima donna footballers by remembering the boyhood team who helped him on his way to stardom.

Gardner was just 14 when he first joined Sheldon-based outfit Arden Forest where he played for one season before catching the eye, first of a Birmingham City scout, and then Aston Villa where he now plies his trade in the Barclays Premier League.

But the England Under-21 star has never forgotten the Sunday side who set him on his way and is a regular visitor back to his roots - his grassroots that is - to cheer on the current crop of future stars.

Now Gardner, who was born and bred in Yardley, has kitted out the majority of the 14 teams who cater for boys and girls aged from Under 7 to Under 16 with £4,000 of new strips or training tops.

And while the new kit is endorsed with his name and Aston Villa he drew the line at making the club change its green and yellow kit for claret and blue!

Besides with the club based in a pro-Birmingham City area some of the players would probably refuse to wear it!

Gardner, 21, went to Cockshut Hill School and comes from a footballing family. He already has a younger brother Gary in the Villa Academy and destined for a bright future in the game.

He himself came through the ranks playing in midfield but has also covered for Villa's first team on many occasions at right back and last played for the team he has supported all his life in their crucial 1-0 victory over Slavia Prague in the Uefa Cup last Thursday.

Gardner said: "I love to go back to my old club and see all the youngsters and how they are getting on. I will never forget where I come from. Clubs like this are the lifeblood of our sport and it is great to try and give the children as much encouragement as possible.

"Who knows - there may be one or two who go on and make it in the future. It would be great to see a couple of Arden Forest kids playing in the Premier League in years to come."

Gardner, who also revealed recently that he had bought a patch of land near his new Warwickshire home to provide a football pitch for local youngsters, insists he is nobody special despite the fact he recently signed a new deal with Villa keeping him at the club until at least 2010. He said: "There was nothing in the village so we bought a field and put a football pitch on it. It is great now to see 40 or 50 kids that would be on the streets using it to play football.

"When I was younger we would play football in the grove by my mum's house and the police would always come over because there were 'No Ball Games' signs in the road!

"Perhaps it is because I know what it is like being a youngster with nowhere to play that I want to give something back. Some footballers do get tarred with that brush about greed but I hope people who know me will say: 'Craig is not like that'.

Chairman of Arden Forest, Tony Mitcham, can certainly vouch for that and said the club, who play in the Central Warwickshire League, had been delighted by the player's generosity with the new kit welcomed by the youngsters. He said: "In this day and age you read so much negative publicity about Premier League footballers that we felt it was only just Craig got a massive pat on the back from us for helping us out with the new kits."

 

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