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Soccer Aid: Together as a Team We Can Save Children's Lives

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Even for the non football fans amongst us, it would have been hard to not get caught up in the drama that unfolded on our screens over the weekend as Manchester City clinched the Premiership title from their neighbours by the narrowest of margins.

So dramatic were those last few moments, the sense of elation and despair of the fans and players was almost palpable. In its finest hour, football really can make you feel like you are part of something big.

So it didn't surprise me when I read in the papers last week that the greatest moment of Woody's Harrelson's life was when he netted the winning goal for the Rest of the World team at Soccer Aid two years ago; "scoring the winning goal at Old Trafford in 2010 was probably the highlight of a pretty great life."

Woody is no Aguero, but even he knows how life-changing it can feel to score the winning goal for your team.

I was pitch side that night at Old Trafford, where the atmosphere was electric, the tension nail biting and the competition fierce. And when the Rest of the World team, comprising football legends Zinidine Zidane and Luis Figo beat England on penalties to take one of the most coveted titles in football (at least in celebrity football!), it was one of the best nights of my life too. Not because of who won, but because of what the final whistle meant for children.

Soccer Aid has been a regular fixture in UNICEF's diary since 2006 when Robbie Williams used his position as an ambassador for UNICEF UK to initiate the celebrity football match to raise money for children. Since then, it has raised £7.5 million for our life-saving work with children across the world. Money that we would have struggled to find, and children we may not have been able to help had it not been for the support from all the celebrities that took part and the public who paid money to come along and watch the game. And all those who donated so generously during the TV programme.

For some, the spectre of celebrities associating with charities does not sit well. But at UNICEF UK we have always looked on celebrity support - particularly that of our ambassadors who generously commit their time for free, and remain dedicated supporters for many years - as a crucial way for us to tell the stories of some of the world's most vulnerable children and a platform to raise the money we need to continue our life-saving work.

Soccer Aid is the epitome of the difference that famous faces can make to the lives of vulnerable children when they come together in an exciting and innovative way for charity, and this year's game, which is now less than two weeks away, is no different.

In fact, this year the stakes are twice as high, thanks to an announcement from the UK government that this year they will match, pound for pound, all the money donated to UNICEF through Soccer Aid.

Their continued commitment to keep their promise to spend 0.7% of the national income on international aid, despite this time of austerity, reflects two crucial points; investment in aid by the UK government can and does make a real difference to children's lives, and the need for that support has never been greater.

As I write, there are more than a million children at risk of starvation in West Africa, simply because they don't have enough to eat. As a result of crop failure in eight drought-hit countries from Chad to Niger, combined with high food prices and the effects of conflict in Mali, many families and their children have been left with almost no food, and without help thousands could die.

The situation shows worrying similarities to the food crisis in East Africa last year, which needlessly claimed thousands of children's lives. The emergency became as grave as it did, in part because of the failure of the international community and media alike to respond to the growing crisis quickly enough.

But it doesn't have to be this way. UNICEF is the largest provider of therapeutic food for severely malnourished children in the region and has already treated tens of thousands of children since January. But if we are to stop the crisis turning into a humanitarian disaster, we need more money and we need it now.

By supporting UNICEF through Soccer Aid on Sunday 27th May, we can all be winners; you, me, Woody Harrleson and of course the children in West Africa and beyond who are suffering and need our help.

Together, as a team, we can save children's lives.

To buy tickets for Soccer Aid go to itv.com/socceraid or call 0161 444 2012. All profits go directly to UNICEF.

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