In this series of articles, we will be covering the inspirational summer school sessions our young people have been participating in. The first session was held with FBB patron Troy Townsend, Education Manager at the equality and anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out, and one of the leading voices in the country championing the need for greater equality and diversity throughout the game.
Football is a multi-billion pound industry and at times it can feel insulated from the day to day realities that the vast majority of young people experience. Thus, it is always refreshing to introduce our young people to individuals involved in the game like Troy Townsend who can share their lived experiences to empower our young people to make better decisions in life.
Over the course of his talk, Troy Townsend discussed a range of subjects with our young students, including his personal struggles as he sought to come to terms with the disappointment that his singular ambition of becoming a professional footballer would not be realised.
Mr. Townsend, who came through the academy system was released at 16 by Millwall. He explained to his captivated audience the profound impact this had on him: “It was my first significant negative experience of the game. No had ever told me I wasn’t good enough before, wherever I had gone in my journey it was always pats on the back, always well done. Everything up until this moment was positive.”
“But then top-level football was no longer a possibility for me” he added. Dealing with the disappointment of knowing what he had worked his whole young life to achieve would not be realised was difficult to come to terms with. Made even more so by the lack of a supportive family structure at home, with his mother working 12-hour days to put food on the table and having a near enough non-existent relationship with his father.
The result of this lack of support and guidance saw him mix with the wrong people. Leading him to “do the wrong things, at the wrong times and the wrong places. And ultimately, I got myself into a lot of trouble for a period of four or five years. While it was a period I can never recover from, it was at the same time a period I learned so much from despite how negative it was.”
After a harrowing experience, following a fight between his friend and local members of the community in Wanstead, he experienced a defining moment that has shaped the course of his life since. In the morning that followed the fight he was ordered by his friends to collect a package, which to his dismay, included a firearm. As he followed his orders and transported the package on a bus, Mr. Townsend realised the magnitude of his actions. Over the course of this hour-long solitary bus journey, he made a decision that would change his life dramatically.
“Lots of things went through my mind during this bus journey. I was questioning everything, the people I had let down, and the fear of getting caught and ruining my life forever despite it having nothing to do me. All I could think about was the fact that I was supposed to be on a football pitch somewhere with the fans signing my name.”
It was at this point that he realised things had to change. From that point, Mr. Townsend sought to help young people in the same situation as him. Anyone who has followed his work in the game, as an advocate for young players and an activist for greater equality within the game, will be well aware of how he has stuck to that promise.
There were also wise words shared by him regarding some of the important values young people need to remember in moments of difficulty. One of which is the power of love. “Love is such a powerful expression, and we all have it in us, as much as we might think we don’t.” He explained how the power of loving others, be it friends or family, inspired him to aim to be a “father figure, that provided support, for his friends and other young people.”
Indeed, for us at FBB the power of love, whether that be for football, friends or family, is central. It is a lesson we try to pass onto our young people every day as we start from a premise of relating to others through understanding and love as opposed to blame.
Giving our young people the opportunity to hear the power of concepts like love from people like Troy Townsend, who is not only a leading figure in the game but also someone who has overcome many of the difficult challenges thrown at him, is vital.
Our work focuses on the young people who like him often lack the support and guidance to navigate the challenges society throws at them. And those from disadvantaged backgrounds face disproportionately weighted hurdles, restricting their life chances and opportunities that much more. By giving them an opportunity to hear and learn from the experiences of those like them that have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but have risen above those challenges is an important component of the tools we equip our young people with.
That is why our summer school programme not only focuses on helping them develop their academic learning experience but also exposes them the stories, experiences and wisdom of people like Troy Townsend, who have overcome adversity to flourish and become a source of great inspiration for the next generation.
A heartfelt thank you from FBB to our friend and patron Troy Townsend.