A TEAM of Bournemouth schoolchildren graced the same pitch also used by Lionel Messi a few hours earlier, as they competed in the Europa Cup.

Taking place at Paris Saint-Germain’s Parc des Princes stadium, teams from across the world battled it out on the hallowed turf, which played host to a Ligue 1 fixture the previous evening.

Representing Bournemouth were Stars Football Academy, who have enjoyed a whirlwind few years since being founded by Sam Bayston, a familiar name in the Dorset non-league scene.

Formerly featuring for the likes of Wimborne Town and Dorchester Town, Bayston went full-time at Stars in 2021 and dropped down the non-league pyramid, most recently featuring for Shaftesbury.

And his under-10s side capped a memorable weekend in Paris with four wins out of five on the pitch, coming home as plate champions.

“It’s amazing really. Last year one of our age groups won a Pen Mill tournament and we got an email through from Precision Pass, who have a lot of tournaments at stadiums,” Bayston explained to the Daily Echo.

“They had a European one which they were hosting at Paris Saint-Germain.

“It was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“They basically created this package where you go across on the ferry on Friday morning, they sorted the hotel out, the Saturday they arranged for us to be at Disney and then on Sunday we play in a tournament against teams from all over the world.

“We had a team from Nigeria, a French team, two Scottish teams and another English team. It was unbelievable really.

“We’ve only been around six years and thought we were going to get absolutely battered, but we came away really excelling. It was an unbelievable experience.”

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He added: “It’s crazy, because PSG actually played the night before on the pitch.

“So literally 14 hours later you’re playing on the same pitch as (Kylian) Mbappe and Messi!

“The experience alone was going to be unbelievable, but then to have the success with it, was the tip of the iceberg really.”

But the wins were not the standout achievement of the tournament for Bayston.

“There was a moment I have to mention really because it literally brought the whole stadium to applause,” he said.

“We won one of our games 6-0 and one of our lads scored from the halfway line.

“The keeper probably should’ve saved it, bless him. But the keeper basically went down, burst into tears and his team were shouting at him.

“None of us said anything, but three of our players ran over to him, cuddled him, picked him up off the ground.

“Honestly, it was just unbelievable. It’s something we try and create at Stars and the whole stadium clapping and that to me was probably the highlight of everything, because it was everything we’re trying to create children to be.”

Bournemouth Echo: Stars Football Academy competed in a competition in Paris

Based at Bournemouth’s Kingsleigh Primary School, around 400 children pass through Stars each week, either in one of their five teams ranging from under-7s to under-10s, their Mini Strikers classes for children aged two to six, or as part of after-school clubs.

As Bayston explained: “We’re just trying to give as many children positive experiences in sport as we can really.

“We originally set it up because we wanted to give an academy style football coaching programme to any child, no matter their ability. That was always the plan.

“We started off doing Mini Strikers, then we had a bunch of players who got to six, they were basically going to leave us to go and play for actual teams when they start at under-7s.

“But they were such a good group, it was like right, we’ve got to take advantage of this.

“That was when we basically created our first ever team, which is now this under-10s team. So we created a team with them and then just added a new team each year, built up from there.

“We do scholarship programmes where children who are maybe struggling at school with behaviour or attendance, the school basically put them with us as a release and help them have a focus outside of education.

“All of a sudden then their education gets better, their attendance goes up because they have got that focus and reward of the football.

“We do teaching in schools, we do after-school clubs, holiday clubs.

“It’s all quite linked in to helping disadvantaged children, because our holiday club is a Marcus Rashford programme where children who get benefit-related free school meals, the government pay for them to attend a holiday club for free and we have to provide them a hot meal and a day’s worth of exercise.

“Our holiday club then got nominated this year for a national award for how many children we’re catering for and going above and beyond to support the families and never turning any child away and making them have a positive experience.

“It all links into one.”

Poole-based MDG Sports play a key role with their sponsorship of Stars, helping to keep the costs down for children to attend sessions.

Bayston said: “We want to make it as affordable as we can for families and children.”