BLACKBURN Rovers stars have kicked off a pioneering £25,000 project to help disabled and disadvantaged youngsters.

On the eve of Rovers' crucial Worthington Cup semi-final encounter with Sheffield Wednesday - and an expected final date in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff - they returned to basics when pupils from Broadfield Special School in Oswaldtwistle turned up at the Brockhall training academy.

Midfielder David Dunn took time out from receiving treatment to a calf injury sustained at Old Trafford on Saturday and said: "It's great to get back to grass roots."

The England Under-21captain was receiving a cheque which will boost the club's education programme for school pupils and disadvantaged people in East Lancashire - and help establish a disabled football team sporting the famous blue and white shirts.

"I'm looking forward to getting to the Millennium Stadium, but the grass roots is where I was myself not long ago," the Rovers schemer, who hails from Great Harwood, said. "The club does some great work for kids."

Barclaycard, the Premier League's official sponsor, handed over the £25,000. Rovers education manager Gill Kinloch said: "The club's disability and education programme offers local children the complete football experience, from playground to Premier League."

Barclaycard sponsorship director Nic Gault added: "We think it's essential that time, money and effort is directed into these projects to make football as inclusive as possible.

"I hope our donation to Rovers will enable them to develop the exceptional work they are already doing."

Gill added: "Football strikes a chord with so many people from all kinds of of backgrounds, and this investment from Barclaycard will allow us to use the game as a tool to create more opportunities for local people from all backgrounds - both on and off the pitch."

Some £10,000 of the grant will help Rovers establish a disabled football team which will give young people and adults the chance to participate in the game regardless of their ability. The injection of cash will provide coaching kit, soccer kit and help towards travel costs.

Rovers community officer Anthony Barlow said it was hoped the disability team would play in a structured league, and the club will take on a part-time disability coach.

The other £15,000 will see more than 4,000 East Lancashire schoolchildren benefit from the expansion of Rovers' Learning Through Football campaign. Programmes run by the education department will target 100 primary schools, focusing on the development of literacy, numeracy and IT skills - and pupils will go to Ewood Park for the extra tuition.

"It's a great motivator," Gill said.

Fifteen-year-old Andrew Dodds, a pupil at Broadfield, watched his Rovers heroes training at the Brockhall complex and said: "This beats lessons any day."

The investment at Ewood forms part of Barclaycard Free Kicks, a three-year programme which will inject £4million into grass roots football in the UK.