Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Why Nuno chose to help Feed Our Pack

There are times when it becomes too overwhelming. The magnitude. The uncertainty. The savagery. The pandemic has ripped through society.

Nuno Espirito Santo the head coach / manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA)
Nuno Espirito Santo the head coach / manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA)

Nobody is immune from its effects. The lucky ones might look up from their work at a laptop and just gaze into the middle distance. Or maybe set out for the supermarket but somewhere along the way forget what it is they have gone to buy. The days that start with an achievable list of things to do, jobs to complete, but end with none of those tasks fulfilled.

That is the pandemic at its absolute mildest. Leaving us hanging in a suspended existence. Not sure what the future holds. Frightened for our future prosperity.

Nuno Espirito Santo is frightened. It was one of many emotive words he used during a long conversation discussing the impact this pandemic has had on our lives. But he recognises he is one of the lucky ones.

“Thank God that I am working, that am I able to go to the training ground in a healthy environment,” he explains.

“I cannot even imagine what it is like to be at home not being allowed to do your job, not being allowed to collect your salary, and all the problems that come after that.

“I am fortunate and we are privileged in football. We have the luck so let us think about the other ones, not us, who are in real problems.”

After the first lockdown Nuno returned to work at Wolves with a determination and belief that he needed to act, as the crisis unfolded around him. Unable to stand by and watch others suffer, he spoke to community staff at the club and asked what he could do to help. The Wolves Foundation has been at the coal face during this pandemic, helping the most vulnerable in society. It has partnered with the Good Shepherd to tackle food poverty in the city, especially amongst children.

“We initially explored a few ideas about the type of project we could work together on,” says Will Clowes, head of Wolves Foundation. “We kept coming back to the need for supporting people with food at this most difficult time. In the end it was so emotive, this whole topic, it was the one we chose out of all other options.”

And so Feed Our Pack was born. The three-year project has been made possible by a £250,000 grant from the Premier League PFA Community Fund and Nuno’s incredible personal donation of the same amount.

But there is one figure in all of this which is impossible to ignore: 29 per cent. That’s 29 per cent of Wolverhampton’s children living in poverty. It is shameful that a supposed developed society can create an environment where any city – and there are many – can have so many children living below the poverty line. The problems were there before the coronavirus hit these shores, but the pandemic has accelerated a developing crisis and plunged too many vulnerable children into deeper trouble.

“When you think that you don’t have food and you are not able to provide food to your family, that is the worst feeling someone has,” Nuno adds.

“It is a common project now, it’s everybody that wants to help. Everybody in Wolves that can give a hand will do so, it’s just a beginning.”

The initial £500,000 injection to the project gives Wolves Foundation the opportunity to reach areas of the community where immediate needs are greatest. Alongside food poverty the pandemic has broken the organisational structures all children depend upon.

“The simple objective is to increase the volume of food distributed through the foodbanks,” Clowes reveals. “Then from a school point of view, it’s working closely with families in the most need during these difficult times, to make sure they have everything they need. Not only food, but education resources and physical activity opportunities, when restrictions allow. There’s a whole range of different services where the money will be spent.”

Professional football is often accused of operating inside a bubble. It does, but that bubble is not immune from society.

“Many people have had close ones who have lost their lives, close ones who are struggling,” Nuno continues.

“I am a member of this society. I am someone who deals with this on a daily basis, because there is always someone that you know who is having problems. I will try my best to get this message across, be an example, and get people involved in this Wolves Foundation project.”

This is where Nuno will have the greatest impact. He is a figurehead for the city, leading its football club to heights not witnessed for generations. That an overseas manager has become so engaged is quite unique. All football supporters idealise their relationship with managers and players. They like to think their club means as much to those paid to represent it as it does to them.

Nuno will never love Wolves like a fan, but the impact of his move to this club and city back in June 2017 has been quite profound.

“Not only on me, on my family and all the coaching staff. We arrived here and we cannot thank enough how people make us feel. From minute one we felt like we were home. And now I can say that I’m at home. It’s my moral obligation to give something back, and this is the right moment to do it.”

The lockdown has made it impossible for us to come together. We do not congregate to watch our football team any longer. That focal point of life has gone for so many. But it has gone for Nuno, too. It is that great paradox of the pandemic: isolation is everywhere.

“It’s not me, it’s us, that we are trying to share something and avoid what the circumstances are creating,” Nuno insists.

“Because what we see is that we are getting far away, people are isolating themselves. After that comes the health problems, after that comes the absence of bonds that we have built over so many times. These bonds we cannot break, even if we are not from the same household, we are still here and we are going be here again.”

Throughout his management at Wolves, Nuno has been unswerving in his devotion to the idea of The Pack. The Pack he speaks of now represents all of us, not just Wolves fans. He is acutely aware that this is not a moment to turn inwards. We come through this by uniting. What Nuno has done is speak directly to those who are most desperate. Those whose voices are ignored and marginalised. In recent years the language of division has spread as far and wide as this pandemic. It does not have to be this way. As Nuno concludes, we need each other.

“The world is changing and I’m really afraid that being selfish will be our worst mistake, and I cannot allow that.”

You can support Feed Our Pack here https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/FeedOurPack

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