It all changed for Bobby Kasanga in 2015. It marked the year he was released from jail after eight years inside for gang-related crimes but – perhaps more importantly – it was also the year he founded Hackney Wick Football Club.
Bobby remembers that football had been a passion since Year Three, when his teacher suggested he fill in for a missing player on his older brother’s team. But funnily enough, he imagined his post-prison career to be in literature, not on the field. “I thought originally that I was going to become a best-selling novelist because I’d written two books in prison which had done pretty well. I had an iPhone and I was giving people snippets online via Facebook. People really enjoyed it and I ended up selling them successfully on Amazon.”
Things don’t always work out as we expect them. When he was released on probation, Bobby was restricted to living in the borough of Hackney. It turned out to be the catalyst he needed for starting Hackney Wick FC, when he realised that Hackney had no football team.
FOOTBALL WITH PURPOSE
Bobby didn’t want to just start a football club. He wanted to start a football club with a purpose. “Anyone can start a football club. But how can you make a difference? How can you impact and create social change?”
In prison, Bobby saw the power football had over his fellow inmates to inspire good behaviour. “Whenever there was a football session, people behaved themselves throughout the whole day because they wanted to go to football. I realised I could use my passion for football as a catalyst to change people’s behaviours. The more people play, the less time they’ve got to be involved in gangs.”
The club has helped people integrate and connect to their local community in a number of ways, including getting some team members their first full time jobs. “Through playing with the football club, the members can learn leadership skills, how to negotiate, how to command authority and how work with others. Importantly, it keeps them away from trouble and enables them to support their families.”
Not only does the club help advance its members in the work space, but it acts as a safe space for those struggling with their mental health. “We’ve got a lad who suffers with some mental health issues. Because of the medication he’s on, he’s very slow in his mobility, but he really enjoys the game. For him, the club is a respite and a space to be around people. The community is really important because a lot of people who suffer with mental health issues are marginalised by society. They don’t always have many friends or a peer group.”