On this week’s show I talk with Samir Singh about the amazing work being done by Arsenal In The Community.
Ever since the move to north London in 1913, Arsenal has held a very special place in the heart of the local community, but it wasn’t until the early eighties that community engagement really began in a structured fashion.
In the summer of 1981, England was rocked by racial and social unrest across inner city areas. These riots acted as a wake-up call to politicians and even sports policy makers and administrators. Of course, we knew that in those areas there were many keen and talented sports players, but a closer look revealed that most of the new sports facilities that had been built in the 1970s in the inner-city areas in which they lived were not being used by these local youngsters.
The Sports Council’s Action Sport programme was created to encourage participation among the regions’ urban communities to participate in recreational and competitive sport. From this, an innovative idea was put forward; since most football clubs were in the heart of the community and had a special place in the hearts of young people and their culture, sport sessions organised by the club would surely enthuse even the most reluctant participant. Arsenal was already undertaking this kind of work under Vic Akers who had coached in Arsenal’s Centre of Excellence for school boys before he was appointed as Arsenal’s first ever Community Liaison Officer in February 1985.
This was the start of ‘football in the community’ and with the support of Ken Friar OBE and the backing of the board, Arsenal Football Club was proud to be there from the beginning.
Alan Sefton was invited by Ken Friar to join Arsenal’s fledgling community sports teams in 1986 and help develop the schemes. The process started with the community use of Arsenal’s JVC Sports Centre behind the Clock End at Highbury. As soon as the community programme started, it became a hive of activity hosting soccer schools, indoor bowls, fitness training and a sports college for the department’s trainees. The training programme has been the cornerstone of Arsenal in the Community from the very beginning and many former trainees are still with Arsenal Football Club, dotted about the place in different departments. Not a lot of people know that the Arsenal Ladies began as a trainee scheme too.
The Sports Centre soon reached capacity and outreach work began. School visits and soccer schools became an integral part of the programme. Whilst Arsenal was used to engaging young people through sport, the idea of motivating and encouraging young people at school using Arsenal as the hook was soon developed and as a result several education initiatives have been introduced and developed.
In recent years, Arsenal in the Community’s outreach work has taken place on estates and parks – offering local young people the opportunity to play football with the department and take advantage of the other education, social inclusion and employment programmes we have to offer. Arsenal in the Community has also been instrumental in upgrading local facilities, transforming them into quality pitches that young people actually want to play on.
These programmes embrace a wide variety of community involvement and they’re delivered and received with the same energy and commitment today as when they started 25 years ago. The one thing that has changed since the beginning is the size and location of the ‘Arsenal Community.’ With the globalisation of football Arsenal has passionate supporters of the Club all over the world who wants to get involved with the Club and play football ‘the Arsenal way.’