AIR Football changing young people’s lives
In December I attended a presentation evening for the London Coaches association. The award winners on the night included; Roy Hodgson, Don Howe and Hope Powell – all of whom have made a huge contribution to football in this country. The winner of the grass roots coach of the year, was a lesser known name, whose contribution to the community compares favourably to those outstanding coaches.
Colm Whitty was an apprentice at Fulham, who got in with the wrong crowd and ended up involved in drugs and alcohol. Having turned his own life around, he set up “AIR Football”, a football programme with a built in lifestyle support for people with drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems as well as people at risk of offending.
On Tuesday, I attended a presentation at one of his centres, which run in Dagenham, Redbridge, Newham, Bexley, Barnet and Enfield.
Colm gave an overview of what he is trying to achieve with the young people who attend. Football is ‘the hook’. By getting people down to play football, Whitty and his dedicated fellow coaches are able to help with their social problems. They have built a ‘family’- a place where young people can go in the knowledge that people care about them, trust them and respect them. They can play football but are given support in so many other areas.
With the important backing of organisations like the NHS, Met Police and several sponsors, Airfootball is working. Several of the young men and women who have benefitted from the scheme, bravely and impressively stood in front of the audience and relayed their stories. For many of them, just having the confidence to stand in front of that audience and speak was a massive achievement. But they have gone further.
There has been help with education – some are attending college or university. Many have passed FA coaching badges and some are playing semi-professional football. Others have been helped to find jobs with local businesses. Beyond this, all have been given structure in their lives,opportunity and hope that they don’t have to follow the wrong crowd. Much of the success is due to the staff going beyond the call of duty.
Many of the guys spoke about missing sessions and having text messages or visits from Whitty or one of his other coaches- Jeff and Leonard, dragging them back into the group. They realised these people cared and really wanted to help them. For most, they had never experienced this in their lives.
I can only say the day was an inspiration. The coaches at AIR Football know they have to put on good quality sessions and tournaments to attract people back. They are. The testimonies of those who have taken part and continue to stay in touch, offer the best recommendation for the scheme. The coaches, along with the support of all the partners of the scheme are changing peoples’ lives. They should all be proud.
To learn more about the project visit www.airfootball.co.uk