With millions of older people feeling isolated, they greeted 11 long-time fans in support of Age UK

They may have trumped Watford by 3-0, but Sunday’s match was significant in more ways than one for Manchester United.

For the first time in history, 11 ‘guests of honour’ stood on the iconic Old Trafford pitch and shook hands with its first team ahead of the game to highlight the issue of loneliness amongst Britain’s older generation.

The weekends are a social desert. The only contact I get is at the supermarket

The touching moment, which saw the guests step out in front of a crowd of 75,000 fans, was part of ‘Donate Your Words;’ a new campaign between Cadbury, Man United and snack company Mondelez in support of Age UK. After research revealed that a typical week saw almost 2.6 million people aged 65 and over speak to three or fewer people they know - with more than 225,000 often going a week without speaking to anyone at all - the campaign aims to inspire people to ‘donate your words’ by having a conversation with an older person.

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Man United are supporting ‘Donate Your Words’ as part of their commitment to the local community

The survey found that simple, small gestures can play a part in helping to tackle loneliness as over 6 million older people claimed a few minutes of conversation would make a huge difference to their week. Many said they would feel more confident when outside the home if someone smiles or says hello at a bus stop or in a queue, or if someone asks how their day has gone.  

Those invited onto the pitch were all locals aged 61-87, as well as being dedicated Manchester United fans who have benefitted from their local Age UK charity, which help tackle issues such as loneliness. Amongst them was 71-year-old Pauline, who described the weekends as a ‘social desert’ and credited her local Age UK group with enabling her to make vital new friendships. 

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Social interaction is a lifeline for those experiencing loneliness

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “(Donate Your Words) is a fantastic campaign and partnership between Cadbury and Manchester United, shining a light on a very real problem in Greater Manchester and beyond. Loneliness is much closer to home than many people realise, and any actions like these to raise its profile is a big step in the right direction. I wish all parties the very best of luck with their continuous efforts in this area, and more importantly I hope those Guests of Honour taking part have a very special day.”

For more information about the campaign and to get involved, visit ageuk.org.uk/donateyourwords

And while we're on the subject...

Are you an older person who loves football? Fancy getting together with fellow fans and reminiscing? Manchester Football Museum runs a popular age-friendly programme spanning guest speakers to themed chats over a biscuit and brew. Find out more on the website.

Read more: Chippy teas and sassy septuagenarians - Is Manchester really an age friendly city?