The sky is the limit for four aspiring female footballers from the United Arab Emirates after an invitation from Manchester City Women turned into the trip of a lifetime thanks to Etihad Airways, the UAE’s national carrier.

For girls, Madiyah, 12, Meriel and Sura, both 11, and Zarah, 9, who all attend City Football Schools in the UAE, mid-week coaching in Abu Dhabi typically ends with a tactical de-brief.  

In a heart-warming video released to celebrate International Women’s Day, the girls were thrilled to receive a personal message from England Lionesses, Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp, and Australia’s Hayley Raso, in which they were invited to join them as Manchester City matchday mascots for the Barclays Women’s Super League fixture against Arsenal at the Academy Stadium on the Etihad Campus in Manchester. 

Unknown to the girls, Etihad Airways had booked the players, their parents and coaches onto an eight-hour flight that evening from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Manchester.  

As part of the experience, the young female players enjoyed behind-the-scenes access to Manchester City Women’s final training session before the match and were lucky enough to have photos and signatures with some of their role models from the club.  

Georgia Bainbridge, City Football Schools Coach, said, “When we were told about the surprise and asked to put forward four girls, Madiyah, Meriel, Sura and Zarah immediately sprung to mind.

“They have demonstrated fantastic skills and potential, but their attitude to training is outstanding and something all the coaches at City Football Schools in the UAE really admire. 

“We want to continue to inspire our female players and promote women’s football as much as we can in the UAE which has been helped massively following the Women’s Euros and Chloe Kelly’s winning goal.

“She’s a player the girls admire and hope one day to emulate so having the chance to watch her and the rest of the team train before meeting them was incredible.” 

Before leading out the team as match day mascots in front of a sell-out crowd, the girls also toured the Etihad Stadium and the home dressing room where their personalised matchday shirts took pride of place. 

Amina Taher, Vice President Brand, Marketing and Sponsorships from Etihad Airways, said: “The UAE places a strong emphasis on elevating the role of women in society and as the national airline we are fully engaged with this mission.

“We’re proud to work with our long-standing partners City Football Group to champion the inclusion and empowerment of young women ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day.  

“It was an honour to fly Madiyah, Meriel, Sura and Zarah to Manchester to visit the Etihad Stadium and meet their Manchester City heroes.”