London (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Yellow card for a suspended sentence, red card for going to prison — these are the simple but stark analogies used in a revolutionary football programme to prevent young men falling prey to a life of crime.
Football, or “Sport for Thought”, is being used as a powerful tool in British charity Key4Life’s campaign to prevent youngsters becoming embroiled in gang warfare and knife crime.
Pablo Blackwood, a former England youth international who works for second-tier English side Queens Park Rangers Community Trust, told AFP the so-called Beautiful Game lends itself to using analogies that can be easily understood by young men who are grappling with how to deal with tough situations they encounter in life.
Knife-related crime rose by 23 percent in London last year and a spate of stabbings and shootings have left more than 50 people dead this year, pushing the murder rate higher than New York’s.
Blackwood is heavily involved with Key4Life, an organisation set up in 2012 by dynamic Irish woman Eva Hamilton after riots across England the previous year.
Its aim is to create solutions to help reduce youth offending and gang warfare as well as rehabilitating young men when they are released from prison.
“What football is good at is linking into real-life environment and situations,” Blackwood told AFP at a session last week at QPR’s Loftus Road stadium where 20 young men on the six-month-long preventative programme ‘At Risk’ learned about putting together CVs.
“I give them the example of a yellow card and red card.
“If you get the former, a referee will normally tell you what you have done to merit it and he or she will tell you if you do it again you will get a red card.
“Because of where these young men are I tell them it is like a suspended sentence, with them being told what they have done wrong and what they have to do next. People in general tend to modify behaviour as a result.
“But as we also well know some players three seconds later commit the same offence and get a red card.
“I link stuff like that in as I tend to find it is about giving them a hook.”
Blackwood, who as a youth player was on Chelsea’s books before his career was cruelly cut short by injury, says practice sessions on the pitch are also used to educate.