Sir Alex Ferguson has poured praise on Wigan Youth Zone and its “life-saving” work.
The Manchester United legend was speaking at a golf day which raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Parson’s Walk facility.
Quizzed by Sky Sports news presenter Jim White in a special question and answer session, the former Red Devils boss even compared the work done at the Youth Zone to that of the global charity Unicef.
He said: “The essence of this is if we don’t protect our youth then the future is very bleak.
“That doesn’t just apply to what Wigan Youth Zone is doing, I’m talking in general.
“I think we’ve got to give youth an opportunity, the minute you stop giving them opportunities you’ll end up with them standing in shelters, taking drugs with no control over their lives.
“There’ll be exploitation, poverty; it’s a responsibility for all of us to protect our youth.
“When we got involved with Unicef at Manchester United, they took us to Bangkok up a river and we got to this centre. It was kids of six years of age who had been subjected to child prostitution and exploitation.
“These young kids were being protected for the first times in their lives.
“That’s the kind of work Unicef do, trying to improve the condition for youths throughout the world.
“Wigan are doing is a smaller version of that but it’s huge.”
Sir Alex, a close pal of Youth Zone founder Dave Whelan, also drew comparisons with his football managerial style when he was always intent on promoting and developing youth.
Wigan Youth Zone opened in 2013 and since then thousands of youngsters from across the borough have benefitted from its state-of-the-art facilities.
Speaking to a dinner at Mere Golf Club near Knutsford with hundreds of guests, Sir Alex spoke with great passion and admiration about the work being done in Wigan to provide better opportunities for young people.
Comedian Jason Manford, who performed a stand-up set, also praised the Youth Zone with both receiving standing ovations.
“I believe strongly in young people,” added Sir Alex.
“I’ve always believed in them and that’s why with my desires and my intention to make sure we produce young players and it paid off.
“Just think how much it made Manchester United, all those young players, it was an incredible amount of money.
“But the value for Wigan isn’t monetary; it’s saving lives and that’s worth even more.
“Ten thousand kids through the door in one week is incredible; it’s amazing.
“Even if it’s five per cent who improve because of it, it’s a bonus, it’s a big issue.”
For more information see www.wiganyouthzone.org