Nathan Owor reckons he owes a lot to the Premier League’s Kicks community scheme – maybe even his life.
‘Growing up on a rough council estate in East London, most my friends were getting into trouble with police and around the neighbourhood,” he recalls.
“The Kicks project is the reason I believe I’m not in prison or who knows maybe even worse.”
‘Before Kickz I had never played for a football team because I never had the funding.
One of the highlights of the programme is the annual Premier League Kicks Cup, which brings together all of the clubs for a showpiece small-sided football competition.
Owor added: “The free football allowed me to develop my skills and even go on to play in regional tournaments in Derby, Manchester and Blackburn which I will never forget.”
Currently in its tenth year, the Premier League Kicks is one of the Premier League’s flagship community programmes.
“I’ve had young men come through project with natural raw talent which just needed a bit of coaching to then see them earn trials at various clubs”
Jointly funded by Sport England, the project (formerly known as ‘Kickz’) uses the power of football and the value of sports participation to change young lives in some of Britain’s toughest and most troubled neighbourhoods.
Kicks runs free sessions to bring together 12-to-19 year olds who are potentially vulnerable to involvement in street crime but have a keen interest in sport.
It’s backed by all of the Premier League’s clubs, plus many others in the Football League, and also has the support of the Football Association.
Over 50,000 young people took part in the programme in 2014-15 alone, and it has helped thousands of youngsters to find routes into education, training and employment – and even kickstarted some football careers in the process.
Darren Johnson, a coach affiliated to Tottenham Hotspur’s Kicks scheme told Elephant Sport: “I’ve had young men come through project with natural raw talent which just needed a bit of coaching to then see them earn trials at various clubs.”
In some areas where Kicks is active in the community, police have reported falls of up to 50% in incidents of anti-social behaviour.
It is currently in operation at 56 Premier League and Football League clubs across the country, with the involvement of several police forces.
Footballers such as Jermaine Defoe and Heurelho Gomes have previously visited Tottenham’s project for kickabouts, with the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha visiting Everton’s and Crystal Palace’s versions.
Johnson added: “Professional footballers such as brothers Matty [now at Man Utd] and Chris [Arsenal] Willock used to train here alongside playing for Arsenal which shows our level of coaching is very high.”
Despite the name, Kicks is not all about football as the project introduces young people to other sports and activities, including table tennis, dancing and basketball – all part of its efforts to build ‘a safer, stronger and more respectful community’.
The scheme’s long-term goal is to give participants something to work towards for the future, whether it is football or other career paths, while other non-sporting elements of it seek to engage teenagers in music, educational and other personal development activities.