Arsenal in the Community runs the Football Plus programme in conjunction with the Premier League, and it’s a great way of getting young people into the game – and everything that goes with it.
Established in 2009, the programme helps youngsters aged six to 16 develop their football skills and knowledge in structured football environments. More than 10,000 youngsters have taken part since Football Plus began, and we currently have 350 boys taking part across the borough in sessions that run every day of the week. But there’s more…
There are in fact many other strands to Football Plus, and first under the microscope is 16+, a branch of the programme set up in 2018 for young people aged 16 to 20. Sessions run every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at Rosemary Gardens and Elthorne Park in Islington, and one attendee who is going on to even greater things is Presley, aged 17 and from Islington.
“I was initially referred to the session by family friend and then Dean, the project lead, called to invite me down to one his sessions at Rosemary Gardens,” says Presley. “He explained the project and how it could help to support me. It sounded very interesting and I was keen to start.
“I knew that Arsenal in the Community deliver a lot within the area and visit schools to help with education as well as football. I realised it wouldn’t only help to improve me technical ability, but also further my knowledge and understanding and social awareness around football and life skills. I’d just come out of playing academy football and was grateful of extra training. It’s strange when you first coming out of an academy at this age, and not having a idea where you could go after.
For Presley that has turned out to be a new club, Uxbridge FC of the Isthmian League South Central Division (and you can see him in action, above). Taking part in Football Plus with Arsenal has given him the confidence to bounce back from being released by Leyton Orient.
“Dean helps me with my areas of my game that I need to keep sharp and a individual plan to keep me improving and working on my weaknesses,” Presley adds. “We have conversations regular and set targets for develop more on and off the field. It’s very encouraging to have this regular as it doesn’t create pressure and allows me to also help set goals for myself.
“The sessions have given extra training and helped with fitness and technique, plus they’ve given me confidence and helped build new relationships. It’s definitely good for seeking to be a better player and to experience some good opportunities that you wouldn’t get elsewhere.”
“Watching Presley’s development has been wonderful,” says project lead Dean Miller. “He’s always happy and smiling, and willing to learn and progress, asking questions and taking on information from the sessions. We’ve seen his confidence grow on and off the pitch, and we regularly have conversations around how he’s getting on.
“Football is just one part of it, and the whole project is only successful if the participants are willing to challenge themselves and set goals. This stress-free environment has helped him to access areas of creativity and freedom within his learning.”
Presley’s mum is a big fan: “Dean has given Presley confidence and encouragement. He really does have the boys’ best interests at heart, which is good to see in football.”
One for the girls
You’ll be pleased to know, given the proud history and success of Arsenal Women, that this is not a boys only club. Premier League Football Plus has welcomed more than 3,000 girls aged six to 16 to its sessions, and we currently have 300 female participants. Saoirse is an 11-year-old who has grown as both a player and a person from taking part.
“My brother first told me about Arsenal’s Football Plus session as he trains with Arsenal in the Community and my dad then told the coach there, James Warnock, that I wanted to play football,” says Saoirse. “After a chat with James, he invited me to attend the sessions.
“I’ve always been interested in football, and I had to persuade my dad to find me a team to play with. My life wasn’t really good at the time – I was going through family issues and football gave me something positive to focus on. James told me about other projects that the Community department run and I liked playing at The Arsenal Hub, getting to watch matches then meeting the Arsenal Women players and having a photo with them.
“Now I’m taking part in a league run by Arsenal in the Community, which is the most exciting thing, making new friends and learning new skills. I also opted to join the boys’ development group, which was much more challenging because they felt more competitive. I had to prove to myself that I was good enough to be in their team.
“I’ve made friendships through the project with people that I probably would have never met,” she adds. “This is important because it affects how we play on the pitch and how we connect as a team.
“Training is always fun. Football has helped me to stay focused and find out what I want to do in life. It has helped me follow my dreams. I have learned how to communicate, as well as discipline, new football skills, standing up for myself and remaining focused. These skills have really helped me in my new school.
“The number of girls who actually wanted to play football and were able to play with boys was very surprising. It means a lot to me to be part of Arsenal because this is the team I want to play for in the future – playing for them right now is just the first step and it feels great. I would say to others if they had the opportunity to join something like this to take it, because it might not come again and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. The project has given me more self-confidence and made me realise what I want in life.”
On top of that, the programme allows players to branch out into other aspects of the sport, particularly coaching but also officiating. George, 15 and from north London, is a regular at both Arsenal in the Community’s Football Plus sessions and the FA Referee Course.
“I have been a player with Arsenal in the Community’s Premier League Football Plus programme for many years,” says George. “Through the programme, parents were offered the chance to gain their FA Level 1 qualification run by the club. Both my mother and father enrolled, and this led to my father taking his referee qualification in 2019. Now I have followed in his footsteps because I thought it would be enjoyable alongside playing football.
“I have been aware of Arsenal in the Community’s programmes throughout my time with Football Plus, and the refereeing course was something I wanted to do for many reasons including gaining confidence and understanding football better… plus some extra pocket money!
“The first time attending Football Plus and the referees’ course were similar experiences in that I was slightly nervous at first, but felt more comfortable and at ease as the weeks progressed,” says George. “Both projects had participants who created a welcoming environment, and the staff are always welcoming, helpful and supportive. I feel that being part of both projects has helped me to mature.
“I have learned to be more confident and resilient towards the game of football – learning to complete the job to the best of my ability, whether that’s playing, coaching or officiating. I also think it has helped me be more confident in making decisions and sticking to those decisions.
“I have also made some good friendships while playing football and during the referees’ course, and I now recognise some fellow referees – who are my age – who also play in the North London leagues,” he adds.
“I have taken part in many of Arsenal’s events over the years, including holiday courses, visiting Sutton United when we played there in the FA Cup, and several workshops and matches at the Emirates.
“With Arsenal, I feel I am part of a community. I have been at Arsenal’s Football Plus session since I was very young so I’ve had an additional circle of friends outside of school for many years. Arsenal in the Community gave my parents the opportunity to gain knowledge around coaching, which they enjoyed, and I’m sure that seeing this played a part in me wanting to try new things too. If you get the chance, I would say go for it and get involved. You never know where it may lead!”
James Warnock, Arsenal in the Community’s Football Plus coordinator, says: “George has been a regular attendee at our Highgate Wood Football Plus sessions and he is well respected by both staff and peers alike. As well as being a committed player, he has also shown an interest in giving back to the game and football community through coaching and officiating.”
Arsenal in the Community has for years shown that there is more to football than just football – and this course is yet more proof of that.
For more information on Football Plus for boys and girls aged six to 16 email James Warnock at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Football Plus 16+ email Dean Miller at email@example.com
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