A graduate of a community football programme funded by the Premier League has praised its work as it celebrates 15 years of transforming lives.
Mustafa Tasdemir grew up in Kensington & Chelsea, participating in sessions at the age of six at Westway Sports & Fitness Centre in a programme initially launched with the aim to reduce anti-social behaviour in the community.
Now at the age of 22, he spends evenings as a qualified coach with the Chelsea FC Foundation, working alongside the coaches who coached him and inspiring the next generation of the community.
Mustafa said: “I can’t undermine how much Kicks has done for me. The words will never be able to explain how I feel about it. I am living proof that the Kicks programme has had a positive impact on the community.”
When he left school with poor GCSE results, coaching provided him with an outlet to do something he enjoyed as a career. With the help of those around him, he got his qualifications, the relevant experience required and ultimately a job at the Chelsea FC Foundation.
He credits the programme for toughening him up and allowing him to come out of his shell as a shy kid to a qualified football coach and now as someone who wants to build a career as a football agent.
Mustafa adds: “Those sessions used to be the highlight of my week. We’d play football then go to Maccies and get a cheeseburger or two. 90% of my friends came from Kicks and they’re all over the world now. Some are here in London, some are in Washington.”
Since starting in 2007, Chelsea FC Foundation have hosted over 11,000 Kicks sessions and engaged a total of 19,947 participants. In addition to providing free sports sessions for young people, the programme offers mentoring, life skills advice and volunteering opportunities.
One of the numerous sessions around the borough are held on the iconic football pitches underneath the Westway flyover in the shadows of Grenfell, where Mustafa grew up, in one of the most unequal areas of the capital.
Many of the participants were affected by the disaster and such is the proximity of the pitches to the now derelict tower block that they were out of use for months after the fire and used as a temporary relief and donation centre in the immediate aftermath.
In a community that was shattered by the tragedy, the Kicks project provides an outlet to youngsters that were traumatised through knowing individuals that died in the fire.
At 15 years on since it started, the sessions still provide an escape and an opportunity for youngsters in the community to get to know each other and develop themselves as footballers and as people.
The Premier League officially states that its current vision of the programme is to ‘to inspire children and young people to achieve their potential and improve their wellbeing; working together to build stronger, safer and more inclusive communities.’
With the example of Mustafa, it is much more than that.
Mustafa said: “I fell into it but I didn’t realise how much of an impact it had on me as a person. Now it’s led to something that’s even greater and better.”
He finishes: “Football is my life. When people say it’s just football it’s ridiculous because football has created my whole life.”