Can football clubs help stop prisoners reoffending?

By Katie Wright
BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

"A blessing that landed at my feet" - that's how Andrew describes the football coaching course he enrolled in during his time at Brixton Prison.

The 45-year-old, from north London - whose surname we've chosen not to reveal - was sentenced to five years in jail in 2015 for drug dealing.

Andrew says he was reaching crisis point as his release date neared - until Fulham's course came along.

"I love football, I play it all the time. At my age what a wonderful opportunity, because I couldn't think of a job I could see myself fitting into at this time of my life," he says.

"I'm not really that good at anything. I've got no qualifications. I couldn't see myself sitting in an office. This course was brilliant."

Andrew has a coaching role lined up once he has recovered from a stomach operation - and a chance of a career for the first time in his life.

He's also formed lasting relationships with the club staff, like employability officer Jim Hart, who keep him motivated.

He's currently learning about the business side of running a football club and will start his level two coaching course in January.

All of which Andrew is hoping will help him towards his dream of opening a soccer school.

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Image caption,
Ex-Arsenal vice chairman David Dein says he's confident his project will work

It's opportunities like this that former FA and Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein is hoping can become the norm.

He's the man behind a new initiative - the Twinning Project - to pair every professional football club with their local prison to reduce reoffending by delivering coaching and refereeing courses.

At present, Dein says the offering is "patchy", but he wants to get at least 20 clubs signed up by the end of the year.

He's spoken to offenders in 106 jails and says: "In those prisons I've seen some stark stories where the prisoners are in a cell for 16 hours a day - there's low self esteem.

"Sport has got a big part to play."

Dein, 75, who spent four decades at the top of the game, believes his initiative will save the taxpayer £700,000 if just 20 offenders are rehabilitated.

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Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright, who spent two weeks in prison for a motoring offence, is fully behind the project.

He said: "We are not going to say it will save everybody that goes into the prison system, but there are people in there who are just waiting for an opportunity to try and change."

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says football clubs have been "super slow" to get involved in prisons but they have a "social responsibility" to do so.

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