ESSIEN HEADS TO WESTMINSTER

Michael Essien joined MPs and former Arsenal and Manchester City midfielder Patrick Vieira at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday to support a major international fight against poverty.

The Chelsea midfielder was accompanied by a range of politicians from both houses and all parties, including the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, and Shadow Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham on the lawns of Speaker's Green at the foot of Big Ben for a parliamentary penalty shootout, organised to raise awareness of the forthcoming International Conference on the Millennium Development Goals Project.

The Millennium Development Goals were established in 2000, when world leaders committed to a global partnership battling poverty on eight fronts.

Goal One: Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty
Goal Two: Achieve universal primary education
Goal Three: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal Four: Reduce child mortality
Goal Five: Improve maternal health
Goal Six: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal Seven: Ensure environmental stability
Goal Eight: Develop a global partnership for development

Essien has already carried out extensive charity work in his native Ghana through his own Foundation, while Vieira is a United Nations goodwill ambassador, and both men were delighted to be in Westminster.

'I'm very happy to be here, it's my first time at the Houses of Parliament and it's very important to raise awareness for the charities that do so much work and for the Millennium Development Goals,' said the 28-year-old Chelsea man, who is currently recovering from cruciate ligament surgery. 'Hopefully everyone can come together to help us achieve our aim. I've played football in some interesting places but it's my first time in front of Big Ben and it's been very good fun.'

Essien at the Houses of Parliament

'It is a big honour to be here in Parliament and it is significant,' said Vieira, now a development executive at Manchester City, who flew in especially from Naples today.

'England has been the leader of trying to help other countries to develop and escape poverty, and as an African this is a very good day,' he added. 'People like Michael and I are the lucky ones. It is our duty to support these projects and not forget where we have come from.'

As host for the day, Mr Bercow was at the front of the queue for the penalty shootout, and welcomed Essien's presence with open arms.

'What is really big about today is hugely well-known and successful footballers lending their names and their time to support the cause and in doing so underlining the importance of sport as a contributor to improving outcomes, tackling poverty and providing opportunity,' he told the official Chelsea website.

'For them to come along today the way they have done speaks volumes. Chelsea have been represented here today and I take my hat off to them. When I was asked about whether I would like to hold this event, I said yes, and if people have enjoyed it, let's do it again.'

One who definitely enjoyed it, even donning the goalkeeper's gloves for a spell despite wearing a suit was former sports minister Mr Burnham, a staunch Everton fan.

'It's wonderful to see Premier League footballers here in Parliament leading the campaign against poverty and ill-health in the developing world, giving something back to the communities they came from. It is fantastic.'

Essien at the Houses of Parliament

He also chatted with Essien, admitting: 'I was just trying to persuade him to sign for Everton, but he didn't look that convinced! I never stop pushing the Moyes cause wherever I am though!'

Despite on-field rivalries, today's event showed the potential football has when its stars can unite for the same cause. Now it is up to the politicians to show their own teamwork in the constant battle with poverty.

The International Parliamentary Conference on the Millennium Development Goals will take place in Westminster from November 28 to December 2.