Ex-England striker Alan Smith inspires prison inmates

By Danny Shaw
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

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media captionAlan Smith and David Dein met prison staff and talked to inmates

Former Arsenal and England striker Alan Smith has been behind bars to help offenders trying to turn their lives around.

He has been to Rochester Prison to back a scheme to twin every UK professional football club with a jail.

The aim is for offenders to gain experience and qualifications in sports coaching and refereeing so they can get jobs when they are released.

It is the idea of David Dein, ex-Arsenal and FA vice-chairman.

He told 100 inmates at Rochester: "Hard work, vision and courage - you're going to need those three to be successful."

'Helping hand needed'

Dein, who helped set up the Premier League in 1992 and brought Arsene Wenger to Arsenal four years later, first visited HMP Rochester in 2013.

The jail, which was built in 1874 and once served as a borstal, was the first of more than 100 establishments he has been to as part of a personal mission to motivate offenders to get their lives back on track.

It led to the creation of the Twinning Project, launched at Wembley in October, with the support of all the main football organisations as well as the Ministry of Justice.

By the end of the year, the scheme aims to pair 20 Premier League and English Football League teams with jails to deliver sports courses, with dozens more to follow.

image captionEx Arsenal striker Alan Smith (right) said inmates "need a lift"

Smith, now a TV and newspaper pundit, said: "When it comes to dealing with prisons the public perception is they're not as deserving as... sick patients but the lads you meet need a lift, they need a helping hand."

Jamie Collins, 41, who is nearing the end of a sentence for drugs offences, said the involvement of football clubs and players could boost prisoners' confidence.

"When you get people like that who take their time to come into a prison to speak to us it shows that people, do care about the welfare of prisoners," he said.

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