HUNDREDS of children across Sheffield are to miss out on football training sessions during the summer holiday - after thieves stole a van containing an £8,000 inflatable soccer pitch.
The inflatable - one of two owned by the council-run Activity Sheffield service - is normally used for sessions every weekend.
But during the school holidays, it was to be used for 12 two-hour sessions every week, each attended by up to 40 children.
The pitch was inside a Ford Transit van stolen from Activity Sheffield’s Carbrook depot.
Paul Steel, operations manager at Activity Sheffield, said: “It’s a big blow for our planned programme of activity sessions for the summer holidays. The thieves won’t have realised the consequences - to them it will just have been a van. But the equipment inside is a big loss.
“The value is not an issue because everything is covered by insurance but it is unlikely we will have received a payment and be able to buy an alternative pitch in time for the holidays, as they are only a few weeks away.”
Mr Steel made a plea for the pitch’s return - or for private companies to help with an alternative pitch, which could enable the service to stage some of the football sessions planned for areas across the city.
He warned many sessions may have to be cancelled if they do not get the pitch back or find another.
He said: “We currently have 26 sessions planned but we’ll only be able to hold half of them if the pitch is not returned or we can’t source an alternative.
“Many of these sessions were to be held to give youngsters in the city’s most deprived areas and it could even be that the thieves will hit children they know as a consequence of what they have done.”
The van, which had Sheffield City Council badges on the side and the numbers 07/655 on the front wing, had been parked at the depot on Tuesday night this week but was not there when staff returned at 7am on Wednesday.
n Anyone with information should call police on 0114 220 2020 or CrimeStoppers on 0800 555111. If you can help Activity Sheffield with an alternative pitch, call 0114 273 5689.