Hammers coach aids autism charity

West Ham United Academy coach Mark Phillips lent his support to autism charity Anna Kennedy Online at West London Community College.

The Hammers U18s assistant manager put on a special coaching session for students on the autistic spectrum at the Hillingdon-based College, which provides services for adults with an autistic spectrum condition or Asperger syndrome.

West Ham have a close association with Anna Kennedy Online dating back to May 2012, when Joint-Chairman David Sullivan fulfilled a promotion pledge by donating a five-figure sum to the charity.

Phillips, who has a son on the autistic spectrum himself, was happy to assist and continue his support for the charity, having attended the Wear it for Autism Fashion Show with his family last month.

"Anna Kennedy Online were collecting at a first-team game at the Boleyn Ground last season and I fell into conversation with Anna and her mother-in-law, so that's how the association came about," he explained.

"I have an autistic son Jack and I work for West Ham and Anna said she was always keen to get people on board who could help the charity, so she asked me to come down and do some coaching at colleges and skills, so that's what I've done."

As a parent with a 25-year-old son with autism, Phillips has experience of a condition that most people know little or nothing about.

Jack Phillips

Mark's son Jack proudly sporting Hammers colours

"Autism covers a massive spectrum of conditions which affect how people think and feel and how they communicate with and relate to other people. My son is non-verbal, which means he doesn't speak and communicates with sign language. He lives in a special needs home in Essex and comes home at weekends.

"Most people have seen the film 'Rain Man' and think everyone who is autistic is like that, but that's not the case. The character actually has Asperger syndrome which part of the autistic spectrum, but people are affected by autism in many different ways.

"There are many homes and schools and every family deals with it the best way they can."

At West London Community College, a special training session with Phillips gave the students a welcome opportunity to swap their classroom for the football pitch, with beneficial results.

Anna Kennedy Online

West London Community College

"Football helps because, at the colleges and schools where Anna Kennedy Online are involved, the autistic youngsters are high-achievers who are just out of the mainstream and they all support football teams.

"They have nothing wrong with them physically but their condition means that many of them have large amounts of energy that they need to work off. They therefore enjoyed getting out in the fresh air and running around during the training session.

"At West London Community College, I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of West Ham fans! Out of the 14 I worked with, five or six are Hammers, which was great."

Having thoroughly enjoyed holding the coaching session, Phillips has vowed to continue his support for a charity that does tireless work in raising awareness of autism.

"Anna is a tireless worker and it's all about awareness and making the general public aware of how autism affects families. More and more people now know someone who has a friend or relative with autism.

"David Sullivan has been very generous to the charity and I am sure the strong connection with West Ham will continue.

"Personally, I am going to keep in close contact and will go to a different school or college every month to hold a coaching session. To see the looks on the youngsters' faces is fantastic."

For further information, visit www.annakennedyonline.com and you can support Autism Awareness by texting AKOL01 followed by £2/£5/£10 to 70070 to donate. (JUST TEXT GIVING by Vodafone)