Young people vs the Police: Football with the Feds

Mikael goes to see if police-led football matches could be a key to helping the community 

I’m sure that for many BAME young people, when the police are mentioned, the first thing that springs to mind isn’t complimentary. In a study conducted by the Guardian, offenders from ethnic minorities are more likely than their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison for certain categories of crimes. According to the Howard League for penal reform, data collected from police forces across England and Wales also found that BAME children accounted for 60% of all child arrests by the Metropolitan Police in 2016. A Ministry of Justice study also found that young black boys are 1.23 times more likely to be sentenced to custody by magistrates than their white peers. These figures reflect the disparities between white and BAME convictions, however they don’t conclude a particular root cause – nevertheless, they aid negative preconceptions of relations between the police and these communities.

Taking all this into consideration, it’s no wonder there’s an air of distrust and disconnect between the police and many BAME communities. However, for some of the young people in Barton Hill, when the police are mentioned, the first thing that springs to mind is… football? Yep you read right – police-led football matches are helping to bring young people and the police one step closer together in Bristol.

This is thanks to Premier League Kicks, the Premier League’s community initiative through the Creating Chances programme. Premiere Kicks’ primary aim is to give disadvantaged youth in high-need areas across Bristol and the UK after-school activities allowing them to make friends, work as a team and gain confidence, while also learning about opportunities such as apprenticeships and advice through the police and their workshops. On top of this, it allows young people to build trust with police officers, who work together with community members as coaches.

Geoff Stevens, community manager: “Working with the community is a blessing. Seeing the confidence growing in all these kids is fantastic.”

Visiting the Barton Hill Netham Park sessions I was blown away by the progress made not only within the community but with the police too. Growing up in Barton Hill I noticed that different groups kept to themselves for the most part. For example, I played at Urban Park with majority Somali kids growing up, but if you walked five minutes up the road to Netham Park, the football and basketball court was occupied by members of the Roma community. This wasn’t bad per se, but there was definitely an air of distrust coming from both sides. Fast forward a decade and I couldn’t help but smile seeing children from an array of backgrounds ranging from as young as primary school to near adulthood all supporting each other and showcasing the true nature of community. Knowing the police-led football matches helped to allow people of different backgrounds to come together was all the positive affirmation I needed to believe in this initiative.

Under the wing of football fanatic Police Youth Strategy Officer PC Kris Withers, community manager Geoff Stevens and Abas Sherif, a local and football coach, what started out as a handful of young people involved has turned into dozens. Apart from the different-coloured team bibs, I saw no division or hostility, just football. As well as the goodwill on show, what was particularly refreshing was how well the police and young people worked together. When disadvantaged communities are justly wary of police it was nice to see these barriers broken down over a friendly game. A local parent whose children attend the matches had nothing but good things to say. “I’ve got two boys here, one who’s thirteen the other is twelve. Coming for the last three months or so, it’s such a friendly environment and when the boys get home they’re tired and ready for bed instead of playing computer games. So often I see and hear about youngsters getting into trouble, but this focuses on their mental building, allowing them to have fun while working with other members of the community, and it’s free which is very helpful. I feel like we’re really investing in their futures.”

Abas Sherif, local football coach: “It has a big impact on the children. When I see the kids enjoying themselves it makes me smile.” Local kids receiving their Bristol City team signed footballs.

Kris’ passion and dedication to football and positive change was inspiring, seeing not only the kids but also the police take on transferable knowledge from working first hand within the community was also extremely satisfying to witness.  When Kris was asked about how the sessions affected him he said, “It’s just fantastic, I love it. It makes me feel incredibly privileged to be able to do this job. It allows me to do things and work with communities I’ve never worked with before. From a personal point of view bringing my son Tom to play here every week, for him to engage with people he wouldn’t otherwise get to know it makes me incredibly happy. These are fantastic people and sport is a great way of breaking down barriers, it encourages teamwork and we can see here everybody gets along. I think the police can be perceived negatively more often than not but for myself having the privilege to work with these young people means I get to see things from the other point of view. Being a youth strategy officer has been my best job working within the police and these people make it that much more special.”

As is evident in Easton’s Roma community through their short documentary The Decider: A story of the Police, Roma and Football“, shattering negative preconceptions of the police, the young people and parents gives an insightful glimpse into what could be, and while there is a long way to go to bridge the gap between police and BAME and disadvantaged groups, this feels like a step in the right direction.

Premiere League Kicks sessions have five venues in Withywood, Fairfield, Lawrence Weston, South Bristol Sports Centre and Barton Hill. For more information visit their website.

Did you grow up in Bristol? What do you think of the police? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.