Arsenal in the Community

Football for everyone

Granit Xhaka with North London United at The Arsenal Hub

The clue is in the name: Arsenal for Everyone. We have always believed that football is a sport for all, and we reflect that in the work we do supporting local clubs through Arsenal in the Community and our grant-giving arm, The Arsenal Foundation.

To illustrate that belief, we hear from some of the people who play for just a few of the local clubs we have helped with both funding and practical support: men, women, non-binary people, boys and girls who might otherwise not have had the same opportunity to immerse themselves in the sport that they love as much as we do.

North London United is a football club for young people with Down Syndrome that holds sessions at The Arsenal Hub. Founder Harold Bennett tells us about it…

“North London United came about when I was approached by a mother whose son also has Downs and was asked to start a football project for young people with the chromosomal condition. I did that for a year, and then Arsenal in the Community approached me to work in partnership. The rest is history…

“North London United deliver weekly one-hour football sessions to young people aged anywhere between five and 25. Sessions involve a warm-up, technical and skills-based drills that develop agility, balance, speed and coordination, and then we finish with a match or game-related activity. We also play friendly matches and compete in the annual national Down Syndrome football tournament with more than 20 other teams. But as well as play football, we help our members to develop new friendships, gain confidence and adopt a healthy lifestyle. 

“I’m also head coach so my role is to oversee the project, plan and deliver sessions, and also engage with the parents and carers to discuss how their children are developing through the project. My daughter plays too, but she also really enjoys supporting others who might be finding it a bit difficult. She likes to spend time talking with the other parents and carers and asking them how their day has been. She too has made new friends and grown in confidence.  

“For me, I thank God for the platform and opportunity I have to impact the lives of other people and their families. As a father of a child with Down Syndrome this project has helped me to become a better coach, parent and person, as I see the world through a different and clearer lens. 

“Through Arsenal in the Community, the participants, parents/carers and coaches have had the wonderful opportunity to attend matches, watch from the Directors’ Box, meet players, take part in campaigns that Arsenal support, walk out on matchday at the Emirates, train on the Emirates pitch and attend the annual Community Awards ceremony. We have been given the opportunity to raise awareness of Down Syndrome in the wider community.

“Arsenal in the Community has provided a platform of inclusion for people with Down Syndrome to be recognised as part of their football family, and long may it continue.”

For more information visit nlunited.co.uk

Goal Diggers is a football club for women and non-binary people. Rachel Vaknin reveals how it helped her fall in love with the sport for the first time…

“I didn’t play sports growing up. Football especially was divided across gender lines at school. My girlfriends and I would spend our lunch breaks dodging the footballs that came flying at our heads from the school field. The boys would play, the girls would chat. It was something I never questioned.

“There were ‘sporty’ girls at school, and I wasn't one of them. I’d come out in a cold sweat when being chosen for teams in PE. As I got older PE became a lesson to bunk, so by the time I left school I’d never kicked a football. 

“Football has always been a massive part of my family life, though, and growing up in north London my parents and brother were and are die-hard Arsenal fans. But just as I rejected the idea of playing sports, I rejected the idea of watching them, too. Perhaps it was an act of half-hearted rebellion against a world from which I felt excluded. I didn’t see a place for myself within it.

“I first heard about Goal Diggers in my twenties, when one of my friends asked me to come along to one of the sessions. I was predictably terrified – all the feelings of PE anxiety came flooding back as I walked on the pitch. But I carried on walking and I’ve never looked back.

“I never realised how incredible it feels to be part of a team – the feeling of seeing yourself improve and being encouraged by amazing coaches and a community of women and non-binary players. For me, playing football has become a sort of release, and win or lose I feel euphoric because I’m part of something. I’m also aware that the culture the Goal Diggers creates is unique, because the club wants people of all backgrounds and levels of ability to experience football. It creates a place to come every week that’s an escape from everything else going on in your life.

“And that’s what sport does for people and the community. It levels the playing field – literally – and it binds you to people you would never usually meet. Sport has become one of the biggest joys in my life, and part of me feels sad for not realising sooner that there’s a place for me here.”

For more information visit goaldiggersfootballclub.com

Redmond Rovers FC is a local football club that plays in the Edmonton District Sunday League. Team captain Rico tells us all about it…

“I found out about the club before it even started. Nino, our founder and coach, entered a team in the Skinners Academy tournament and my friend Adam was taking part. I went along and when Nino and Adam put Redmond Rovers together to compete in the league I joined up.

“Training is difficult because we don’t have a lot of money and pitches are expensive, but we do get to Skinners or Finsbury Park when we can. When we do train Nino works us hard, and there are a lot of drills. I have a coaching Level 1 badge as well and I’ve coached kids in the past, so I like to get involved in that too.

“I captain the team, and I enjoy being vocal and managing the different personalities in the correct manner. A lot of us have known each other a long time so I know how to sort things out when players clash. It’s also about boosting morale when people are down. You have to be able to pick them again, whatever level you’re playing at.

“I started out as a midfielder but now I’m a centre back because when the team started we had a lot of midfielders and no one wanted to play in defence! I’d played there before and although I didn’t really like it at first I do enjoy it now. Sometimes you’re the one holding the team together.

“The money from Arsenal has helped build us up and I think it’s great that The Arsenal Foundation helps support local clubs – there’s a lot of talent in this area but not everyone gets the opportunity to play. I wanted to be a footballer but I lost interest at 16 because I didn’t have the money to travel to games and try to make a career out of it. Now I play because I love it, and in the future I want to get back into coaching properly to help other young people be the best players they can be.”

For more information email redmondrovers@gmail.com

Islington Borough Ladies is a local women’s club with teams from under-9 to seniors. Chloe Copsey loved it so much she worked her way up through the age groups to coach youngsters herself…

“I found out about Islington Borough Ladies in primary school, when my PE teacher was handing out leaflets and encouraged me to go along for trials. I loved football and wanted to play as much as I could, so my dad took me along.

“I was nervous, but club founder Michael MacNeill greeted me with a huge smile, and once we all started to play I felt right at home. I’ve been lucky enough to play for Islington Borough for over ten years, and even after a trip to the States – where I played college football until a fractured metatarsal cut short my stay – I was able to return and get straight back into it.

“Back when I started we trained on Wednesdays and played matches on Sundays. The first few sessions were mostly skills based, which massively built my confidence on the ball. Then as we played more games we started to focus more on teamwork and tactics. We built up such a great bond and achieved so many great things – one moment I’ll never forget was when we played Spurs in the London Cup and were losing 2-0 at half time, but we managed to come back and win 4-3 and I assisted the winner, which was an amazing feeling. We were given so many opportunities, one being an exchange trip to Croatia, where we got to make some great friends as well as play football.

“I wanted to be more involved so I became a coach for Islington Football Development when I was 16. I coached the Islington Under-10s and it was great to see that no matter what the score was the girls always left the pitch smiling. It was so rewarding to see them see the good in themselves and their team.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that more and more girls are playing football at a younger age, which helps massively in terms of development. It gets them understanding the game much younger, giving them more experience and knowledge as they grow up.

“For me, football has been a great way for me to keep fit not just physically but mentally too, helping me through stressful times such as exams. It’s the perfect way to clear my head, no matter what the problem is.”

For more information visit Islington Borough Ladies

The Arsenal Foundation has helped fund local football club Essex Road Giants. Joshua Assiamah is a local youngster who has felt the benefits on and off the pitch…

“I’m from Ghana originally and I live just off Essex Road with my older brother, sister, mum and dad. Before Essex Road Giants I was playing football here and there, but it was rare. The biggest challenge was finding a pitch. I found myself wandering around Islington but my mum put an end to that.

“I found out about ERG at school. A friend had a letter promoting the team’s first training session that weekend, and I was interested because I only lived a few minutes away.

“When we got there straight away I noticed the two coaches, Lewis and Ryan, who I use to see around my estate a lot. I didn’t even know they were football coaches so I was shocked to see them, but also happy and less nervous. After the session they sat us all down and made us think about the future. They let us know that everyone was welcome because football is meant to be fun, but for those who wanted to push themselves there would be two or three sessions a week with matches as well. They spoke with so much passion it was very hard to ignore.

“The thing I enjoy most about the club is how close we are. For example, both coaches have taken me to trials when my parents couldn’t make it. They also let me come down to sessions and take a little group myself, and I’ve made friends I probably wouldn’t know if I hadn’t come to the club.

“Lewis and Ryan have made me 1,000 times better as a player – I feel like I’m a game-changer, whereas before I was just another player. They’ve also given me skills I’ve taken into my everyday life – my behaviour used to hold me back, especially my anger, but I’m a role model to many ERG children and also for a lot of the younger ones on the estate, so I think before I act. So not only have they helped me become a better footballer, they’ve helped me become a young adult and a coach.”

For more information follow Essex Road Giants on Instagram

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