'We're lucky we had football when we were younger'

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock are flying the flag for youngsters in England's capital. 

Our Hale End graduates grew up in northeast London and have progressed through our youth ranks to represent our first team in the Premier League and Europe. 

But, as both explain, their lives could have gone in a very different direction.
"Growing up in London, there's a lot of peer pressure out there and you can get swayed by the wrong people who may tell you that their way of life is the best," Maitland-Niles said. "But luckily we had football when we were younger, and parents to keep us going. If it wasn't for that, maybe our lives could have ended up differently.

"When I was younger, community didn't mean a lot to me. Now having grown up and being able to see the world from a different perspective, it's a big thing. I think the work that the major figures put into the community is right for the environment, for where people are living. How you treat other people has an effect because people are showing more love and more care for the community now. It's a knock-on effect."
"I agree with Ainsley," Willock said. "It's very easy to go the other way because that's all you see when you grow up in the areas we grew up in. Everything around you is bad. Luckily we had a good family base and a good football team that we could rely on as well.
"Growing up in an estate, I met my best friends in the community there and they're my best friends to this day. To have that place where you can go, like a community centre, where people have donated money for you to learn football and learn different sports to take my mind off things.

"Arsenal have put their foot in to help these people with different programmes and hopefully we can inspire them that there is hope after this. Hopefully I can inspire some young people too."

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