Hockey club Old Loughtonians runs after-school sessions in Islington in conjunction with the Arsenal Foundation. England and Great Britain international Darren Cheesman, 28, reveals how the sessions helped him change his life for the better…
“Hockey has been my whole career since I was 11 years old. I was a mad keen footballer and captain of my school team, and was excited when Arsenal came in to take some PE classes. I was shocked when they turned up with hockey sticks rather than footballs. But they made it so much fun, and ran the sessions with so much passion, that I got into it and started doing it after school.
“That led me to Old Loughtonians hockey club, who ran the sessions with Arsenal. I had friends in gangs from different estates who were getting into serious trouble. But the coaches and older boys I played with really looked after me. They were like big brothers to me.
“At Old Loughtonians there were junior age groups and because we were all from Islington we played in Arsenal kit. That was cool because we really stood out, but gradually it was feeding us into a club that wasn’t about football. By the time I was in the under-13s I was representing Old Loughts, not Arsenal.
“I’ve gone on to play in the Premier League, for England and for Great Britain. I made my debut for GB in 2010 and I was hoping to play in the Olympics, but I tore my cruciate in 2011 and missed out. After that I tore the lining of my hip joint and I’ve had to take time out, but I’m looking forward to the second half of the Premier League season, which starts in February.
“I still make it to Old Loughtonian sessions when I can – the same sessions I went to as a kid. It’s nostalgic for me but great for the kids to see role models who came through the same sessions and made a career in the sport. Arsenal gave me everything.
“I fit all the demographics for getting in trouble – single parent, council estate, mixed race, state school – but the club gave me role models and so much support. I couldn’t afford to go to Manchester for an England Under-16s trial and Arsenal gave me kit and money for a train ticket. The work they do in the community is so important.”
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