ENGLAND’S Under-21 footballers were put through their paces during a visit to Colchester Garrison yesterday.

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The under 21 England football squad visit Merville Barracks, Colchester Garrison.; L-R Martin Kelly tries on bomb disposal gear with Corporal George Agymang

The “Young Lions”, including Manchester United’s Chris Smalling, Liverpool’s Martin Kelly and Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba, took time out ahead of their European Championship qualifier tomorrow night to meet members of 16 Air Assault Brigade.

The team and coaching staff were led by their manager, Stuart Pearce, who spoke of his pride for the Armed Forces, saying it was the “ultimate sacrifice” to lay down your life for your country.

They were shown round Melville Barracks by the soldiers who are gearing up to spend six months in Afghanistan.

The players spent more than an hour chatting to the members of different regiments which make-up 16 Air Assault Brigade, including paratroopers, medics and bomb disposal experts.

Corporal Ben “Gravy” Graveston of 16 Medical Regiment, showed the players the different life-saving techniques soldiers need to know which can make the difference between life and death when someone has been badly injured out in the field.

The team, who are playing a crucial qualifying match against Lithuania, at Colchester’s Weston Homes Stadium on Tuesday, asked questions about the upcoming mission in Afghanistan.

Kelly, who plays in defence for Liverpool, donned the heavy-duty jacket worn by bomb disposal units.

He said the players had been inspired by the visit.

“I think it has been a great experience – seeing what they get up to and finding out a lot about their job. It has been good for us to come and see what they are doing and they all are really dedicated to what they are doing and that’s great to see and great for the country,” he said.

Pearce said: “From my point of view, and I think I can speak for the players too, it’s vitally important that we are seen to be supporting the troops and the efforts they are making for their country.”

He said it had been a “great leveller” for his Unders-21s to meet other youngsters who were faced with war in a matter of weeks.”

Colonel Tom Fleetwood, said: “Colchester Garrison thoroughly appreciates the support of the Football Association and the U-21 England football team.

“This visit means a lot to the soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade as they draw close to their forthcoming deployment to Afghanistan on Op Herrick 13.”

james.hore@eadt.co.uk

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