“Thank God I had football”, writes Raheem Sterling in The Players Tribune. One of the outstanding young talents of his generation, Sterling was born in Jamaica before moving to London with his mother and sister four years after tragedy struck his family – his father was fatally gunned down when Sterling was just two years old.
In this deeply personal and candid piece, Sterling explains his struggles at school, and the lifeline that football offered him. Removed from mainstream schooling due to behavioural problems he spent three years at a special school, Vernon House. His teacher at the time, Chris Beschi, told him: “If you carry on the way you’re going, by the time you’re 17 you’ll either be playing for England or you’ll be in prison.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Sterling’s story is one of a young man’s journey of perseverance and determination. Personifying in every-way the remarkable power of football, and the capacity it has to transform the lives of young people at the risk of social exclusion and marginalisation.
Sadly, however, Sterling’s story also brings into sharp focus the reality young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face in London and the rest of the country. Since 2011 alone, 88 youth clubs and council youth projects have closed down, with over £39 million cut from council youth services during that time. Yet it is disadvantaged young people, often boys from ethnic minority backgrounds, who need these services most.
Study after study points to the same thing: rises in school exclusions affect young people from disadvantaged background the most. Meaning thousands of future Raheem Sterling’s are denied the opportunity to realise their dreams, fulfil their potential and ultimately are at greater risk of social exclusion and marginalisation.
As Football Beyond Borders (FBB) reaches a significant milestone towards raising the £15,888 needed to create a multi-purpose hub for disadvantaged young people on the Angell Town Estate, Sterling’s story is a timely reminder of the significance of this project. The chronic lack of engaging and stimulating opportunities combined with increased violence in the city means too many young people are ushered towards un-constructive activities.
FBB’s Fundraising and Female Participation Coordinator Rebekah Keane, who is heading the crowdfunding campaign to help with equipping the learning hub, said: “As Raheem Sterling’s story shows, young people’s passion for football can empower them to invest in their future and succeed in whatever they choose. At FBB we get to see the impact and power of football in our school sessions. With youth services operating with increased demand and a deficit of funds, the trend has led to a worrying lack of safe place that provide positive opportunities for young people to thrive.”
She added: “Fully equipping our new youth centre will provide young people in the area with the tools to study, achieve and be a creative force in shaping the future.”
“Our campaign has been growing in momentum. We have been overwhelmed by the response. People from all walks of life, who care passionately about communities, about policy and about our youth, have helped us reach this incredible milestone. Thank you. But we are only half-way. We need everyone to get involved and help us get over the line.”
To learn more about the project and support the campaign, please visit FBB’s crowdfunding page.