WEARING a football strip dedicated to Kyrece Francis will be like a twelfth man on the field as his teammates face the new season without him, according to the teenager's coach at the kit unveiling.
Moved by the 13-year-old's tragic death last month, Wycombe Wanderers funded new shirts for his team Downley Dynamos to wear next season.
Sponsored by the League Two club – where the young footballer’s stepdad Lewis Cook used to be a player - the green and white-striped kit will also carry a permanent reminder to Kyrece.
A ‘KY22’ badge, courtesy of Cressco clothing, will adorn the sleeves as his former squad number 22 is retired as a mark of respect for the defender, who won ‘most improved player’ last term as he helped his side to promotion.
And Dynamo’s under 14s coach Steve Small, who will lead his team into the u15s this season, praised Wanderers’ support at an official unveiling at Adams Park yesterday.
He said: “It’s just superb, we're overjoyed. It will have a real influence on the club. It was amazing of them.
“They are superb shirts too. We have only got a couple of years left (of the youth system) so this will make a big difference to us this season, like having a twelfth man on the field.
“Kyrece had only been playing for three years, he was such a raw talent but he was improving so much, that’s why he won most improved player last year, he was head and shoulders above everyone else.
“He is such a big loss to us, he was just the nicest kid, he had so much respect and that’s a lot to do with his mum.”
Kyrece’s mum Simone Francis and stepdad Mr Cook stood for pictures on the Adams Park pitch alongside his teammates, long-serving player and fans' favourite Matt Bloomfield and manager Gareth Ainsworth.
The young Chelsea fan was in the stands at Adams Park just weeks ago to see his beloved team beat Wanderers at Bloomfield’s testimonial.
Ms Francis, who was presented with her son’s number 22 shirt, said she overjoyed at the response of the community since the tragic accident on July 22.
She said: “I think the shirts are great, it’s fantastic they’re doing this for the team. His shirt will go alongside the signed shirt we received from the (Wanderers) team and lots of others we have been given.
“They have been very supportive in acknowledging Kyrece and sponsoring the shirt.
“I just thank everyone for keeping his name alive and for everyone being so supportive towards me. I’m thankful for everything and it has really helped us through this.”
Footballer Mr Cook, who made 22 appearances for Blues after coming through the youth academy, said it was good to catch up with former teammate Bloomfield at the dedication.
He said he had not expected such strong support from the club and community, adding that even Chelsea FC had got in touch to offer help towards Kyrece’s Memorial Fund.
Wanderers celebrated the life of Kyrece - who lost his life in the Thames while reportedly diving into fetch a football – with a minute’s silence at their friendly against Reading.
And as well as donating a signed shirt, manager Ainsworth insisted the club would continue to do all it could in memory of the promising player, known for his electric pace.
He said: “We care about our community in a big way, and Kyrece is a big part of that, being such a big football fan and coming here only a few weeks ago.
“We’re there for them as a club and as a local team, it’s nice to make them (Dyanmos) feel a part of this support. We also support the cause of Kyrece’s mum and raising awareness of dangers around rivers for the kids.
“Obviously Matt (Bloomfield) played alongside Kyrece’s stepdad, so there’s a number of connections and we will continue to support as a club in any way we can.”
Dynamos players and coaches also thanked parent Olivia Chivers who organised the day.