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How Robbie Williams turned a mate’s charity football match into the £106m Soccer Aid – & why he still hasn’t got an OBE

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TWO decades ago, Robbie Williams met football agent Kenneth Shepherd at a charity game his mate was playing in.

After watching the match at Newcastle’s St James’ Park stadium, the pair wanted to create a similar event to raise cash and awareness for children suffering across the globe.

Robbie Williams and Harry Redknapp at Stamford Bridge

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Robbie Williams and Harry Redknapp at Stamford BridgeCredit: Getty
Jose Mourinho and Olly Murs

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Jose Mourinho and Olly MursCredit: Rex
Actor Woody Harrelson in 2010 taking the winning penalty

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Actor Woody Harrelson in 2010 taking the winning penaltyCredit: AFP
A triumphant Robbie lifts the cup for England

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A triumphant Robbie lifts the cup for EnglandCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

Soccer Aid for Unicef was launched in 2006, originally as a one-off — but 18 years and 13 star-studded games later, it has generated an incredible £106million for kids suffering in some of the world’s most deprived countries.

And Sunday’s spectacle in front of a packed crowd at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge was as popular as ever — with 3.6million people watching at home, topping the day’s ratings for ITV.

England’s 6-3 victory over the World XI — their first win since 2018 — raised £15million for Unicef.

Singer Robbie, 50, said yesterday: “Thank you for your kind messages about Soccer Aid. Un-f-ing-believable. Just absolutely incredible. So proud and so pleased.”

With so much money raised, some believe Robbie could finally be awarded an OBE — 12 years after his Take That pal Gary Barlow got one for services to music and charity.

The dad of four began working with children’s charity Unicef in 1998 and two years later became an ambassador, travelling to countries including Haiti when it was devastated by an earthquake in 2010.

In the first Soccer Aid, Robbie captained and played alongside his pal Jonathan Wilkes, 45 — who featured in the match that inspired the event.

One source said: “Soccer Aid spiralled into something Robbie couldn’t have ever imagined.

“It has teams in place to work all year round to organise the event and help distribute the funds with Unicef.

“Robbie is so proud of Soccer Aid. They have helped so many people and raised awareness for Unicef and the work they do. It’s incredible.

Watch moment Usain Bolt injures himself at Soccer Aid before athletics legend carried off on stretcher

“The only thing standing in Robbie’s way for an OBE is the fact he spends much of the year abroad, but he’s now sold his US homes and is spending more time in the UK.

“He’s a British icon and a thoroughly nice guy. It seems mad he hasn’t had Palace recognition yet.”

Kenneth, boss of Triple S Sports Management and son of ex-Newcastle owner Freddy Shepherd, has said: “The idea was conceived when Dad and I met Robbie at The Match in 2004, which was a game between ex-pros and celebrities.

“Suddenly Soccer Aid was born. Freddy and Robbie agreed to do it for Unicef and turn it into a global initiative for children around the world, and a lasting and fitting legacy for Dad.”

As well as helping push the total raised above the £100million mile- stone, Sunday’s game also provided the light-hearted entertainment which has made the occasion so loved by so many.

Ex-Love Islander and boxer Tommy Fury, 25 — the younger brother of champ Tyson — had onlookers in stitches when he produced the funniest moments of Sunday’s show while playing for the World XI.

Thank you for your kind messages about Soccer Aid. Un-f-ing-believable. Just absolutely incredible. So proud and so pleased

Robbie Williams

After coming off the bench to Rocky theme tune Eye Of The Tiger, he kicked thin air instead of the ball and took a throw-in underarm, leading fans to question whether he had actually seen a game before.

It surely ranks among the best moments we have seen at the match, which has previously been played at Old Trafford and Wembley.

Others highlights over the years include Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson scoring the winning penalty in the 2010 shootout — despite obviously not even knowing what a penalty was — and Kasabian rocker Serge Pizzorno channelling his inner Ronaldinho to lob ex-England goalie David Seaman.

Jose Mourinho running on to the pitch to wipe out singer Olly Murs, and Inbetweeners actor Blake Harrison’s beaming pre-match grin are other honourable mentions.

As well as wanting to back a good cause, there is a competitive streak among those who take part — from ex-footballers to other sporting icons like Sir Mo Farah, along with actors including Tom Hiddleston and singers such as Tom Grennan.

I’m A Celeb’s Sam Thompson, 31, revealed heavyweight boxer Tony Bellew, 41, got angry after conceding penalties against him in training.

‘Tony stormed out’

He said: “He stormed out of goal and went, ‘Why don’t you put on the f****ing gloves, then?’. Then I put the gloves on and saved a couple from him.”

Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, 45, took charge of the England team alongside his uncle, former Spurs boss Harry Redknapp, 77 — bringing professionalism and a desire to win.

Speaking at a Soccer Aid training day last Friday, boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, 45, told The Sun: “Paddy McGuinness took out Sam really quite badly yesterday — and they’re on the same team!

“He’s lucky he’s flexible, because if that was me, I think it would’ve snapped both my legs.

“When you go into the changing rooms and your kit’s in there, and Frank Lampard’s there giving a team talk — he played a six-minute motivational video about playing for England — and you’re like, ‘bloody hell, this is a bit serious’.

“I haven’t really kicked a ball for 20 years, so yesterday I was actually better than I thought I’d be. Not good enough, but better than I thought I’d be.”

Many of the stars made room for a tipple or two in the bar at Champneys spa resort in Tring, Herts, on Thursday night.

But Eddie, perhaps wisely, gave it a miss and said: “I can’t do this and have a drink and not expect to do a hamstring.”

Redknapp said at the training event: “Some of them had very late nights, but it’s being marked down.

“Me and Frank, we’re aware of those that are having late nights. When the team’s picked, they may have to miss out.

“Robbie Keane is leading our team astray. He was up singing at 10.30pm last night and he got them all at it. Tom Grennan gets up and started singing, which was worth listening to.

“What we’re gonna do, we’re gonna lead them (the World XI) into the bar. We’ll be like that sheep that leads the sheep into the slaughterhouse.

Theo Walcott, Mo Farah, actor Tom Hiddleston and Jack Wilshere

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Theo Walcott, Mo Farah, actor Tom Hiddleston and Jack WilshereCredit: Reuters
Sir Mo Farah, Stuart Broad, right, and Tommy Fury

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Sir Mo Farah, Stuart Broad, right, and Tommy FuryCredit: Rex
The World XI’s Kaylyn Kyle, left, and Jill Scott

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The World XI’s Kaylyn Kyle, left, and Jill ScottCredit: Rex
Paddy McGuinness with cricketer Stuart Broad and Alex Brooker

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Paddy McGuinness with cricketer Stuart Broad and Alex BrookerCredit: Rex

“My players are gonna lead their lot into the bar and then we’re gonna disappear and leave them in there, so they can start drinking and we’ll all be in bed.”

He added: “Robbie loves it. He likes a bit of Danny Boy — the Irish, you know. Great fun.”

Harry may well have followed through with his cunning plan, as his side breezed past their opponents — who included ex-Chelsea ace Eden Hazard and Olympics legend Usain Bolt, who was stretchered off after rupturing his Achilles.

There were some sore heads yesterday as Strictly star Bobby Brazier, actor Danny Dyer and former Lioness Jill Scott led celebrations on the coach taking them to the after-party.

Cheering from the Stamford Bridge sidelines was former Take That singer Robbie, along with wife Ayda Field, 45, and their children.

Speaking previously about what the donations could be spent on, Robbie said: “It could help Unicef to get life-saving food supplies moving again.

Cheering from sidelines

“It could help ensure that children are still able to receive their routine vaccinations.

“It could help get children back to school, back with their friends, back to just being kids again. The list goes on.”

In a video he posted online thanking fans for their kind messages about the match, Robbie — who was on the coaching staff for Soccer Aid’s England side this year — was still in bed shortly after 1pm following a late night of partying.

He is now teetotal after years of drug and alcohol abuse, and has gone from one of this country’s best-loved hellraisers to best fundraisers.

A non-alcoholic cheers to that, Robbie.



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How Robbie Williams turned a mate’s charity football match into the £106m Soccer Aid – & why he still hasn’t got an OBE

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