Arsenal in the Community

“If it wasn’t for Arsenal I’d be in jail”

Elthorne Park resident Calvin was excluded from school and getting into trouble with the police, until he started on our Alternative Education programme and turned his life around.

Calvin* used to go to Elthorne Park when he was younger to have a kickabout with friends, although he wasn’t allowed out late because the park had a bad reputation after dark. That was until the opening of the Cruyff Court, from which point on Calvin became a regular at the Arsenal Kicks sessions with a group of friends.

When he wasn’t playing football, however, Calvin* started getting into trouble at school and in the wider community. “It would be just be a bit of spray painting, or we’d do something to get a little chase off the police,” he recalls. “The Arsenal staff knew about this and were always trying to help me stay out of trouble.”

At school Calvin described himself as a “trouble maker” and it was no surprise when he was suspended and ended up in the Pupil Referral Unit. He soon realised he wouldn’t be going back to mainstream school, and his behaviour really deteriorated. He didn’t think anyone would help him.

“Once one kid gets angry then everybody gets angry. You had to save face all the time – if a teacher didn’t give you respect and kept telling you to shut up you couldn’t just let it go. The teachers annoyed me, I swore a lot and had a few fights. I knew I was making things bad for myself, but I couldn’t stop. The teachers only ever said, ‘“Stop!’ That never felt like good advice. What kid is just going to stop?”

Calvin had always liked sport at school so he kept going to the Kicks sessions even though his behaviour was sometimes erratic and he was often angry with other players. He also realised the Arsenal coaches were different and that none of them made him feel uncomfortable – no matter how bad things got.

“They were always welcoming, good people working together. It helped me stay fit and I could link up with my friends. The coaches were different to the teachers – they would just tell me to calm down, that I was better than this. They knew how to deal with me. They knew how to deal with people who had too much attitude.”

Calvin was offered the opportunity to spend six weeks on the Alternative Education programme, and he jumped at the chance. “Who wouldn’t want to do it? Friends and good people, just positive things. No one there wanted to be negative or horrible to each other. The positive energy was important – it was what made the six of us carry on and work together. You don’t get that in the PRU.”

Over the course of the six weeks Calvin got fully involved in all of the activities on offer. “The gym sessions were massive – everyone loved those. We also got to choose some of the subjects we could study so I picked science, which I love. It meant I could use the computer to find things out about science that I didn’t know. I didn’t mind the written work, but it was the practical I liked most. It was just good focusing on something and doing it. I also learned how to cook.”

In total he attended almost 250 sessions in a two-year period.

“Even if I had a million tomorrow I would still be around Arsenal. If it wasn’t for Arsenal I’d be in jail doing 20 to life – I was a nutcase when I was younger. I was 17 before I was mature and really started taking any notice of people. They’ve built my confidence. I feel way calmer. I couldn’t sit here before and have confidence like this.

“I knew they were still there to help when I needed them – these are good people. Jack particularly is a good person. Even when I was getting into lots of trouble, Jack would come to court with me and tell them about all the good things I was doing. They helped everybody no matter how old they are. They are always there.”

Calvin still plays football at the Kicks sessions. “Everyone is from the estate. I get a lot of respect. I know everyone from the eight to 18 year olds. I’m 100% sure they listen to me. One kid was getting excluded from school so I sat down with him, and now they’re letting him in half days. I said, ‘Don’t be coming up saying I beat this kid up today. I don’t want to hear that.’

“Big thank you to Arsenal – thank you for everything.”

*Not his real name

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