by Shane Thomas

Walking up to a floodlit pitch near Oval Station, the first thing that struck me were the sounds. The thwack of boot on ball, and the skid of rubber sole on sandy astroturf. A cacophony of onomatopoeia, and a mnemonic that made me wistful for my own teenage years.

shaneThis was all part of my introduction to Football Beyond Borders (FBB): a grassroots organisation which attempts to use football to tackle social inequality and to provide a platform for young people to realise their own potential through the sport.

My reason for being in Oval was to speak with some of the FBB staff, who were taking training sessions for the two teams that play under the charity’s aegis: FBB Wanderers and Women Beyond Borders.

Speaking with FBB co-founder, Jasper Kain, he explained that the purpose of these sessions isn’t to try and find the next shane4Raheem Sterling, but to give young children – many of whom live on the surrounding council estates – a place to spend their evenings, and enjoy themselves through football. There was no obligation for any of the players (most of them black) to do anything more than they felt comfortable with.

The same goes for Women Beyond Borders. That said, it would be hard for one not to be enthused by Tom Rodriguez Perez’s (FBB’s Head of Communications) constant stream of encouraging words to his charges as the session progressed. A seemingly endless font of positivity[1], Perez functions much like a supportive older sibling to the girls in the team.

However, FBB’s reach goes beyond one pitch in South London. They are part of a current campaign to lobby Premier League clubs to pay their staff the living wage – something which has only been adopted by Chelsea at present.

In addition, they have also set up a schools programme to assist pupils who are underachieving in local schools, and are in the process of fundraising for an FBB TV channel on YouTube, which would give young people a potential start in the world of sports media – the pilot episode of which can be seen here.

Despite being built from the ground up, FBB’s work has begun to gain some traction among influential people in the game, with journalist, Guillem Balague, and Arsenal star, Santi Cazorla[2] both signing up as patrons.

Football is often perceived as little more than a site of some of society’s most ugly traits, making a mockery of what Pele once dubbed “The Beautiful Game”, so it’s heartening to see first-hand that when used in the right way, the national sport can be a much needed benison in the lives of those who society has a propensity to ignore.

shane2FBB’s most striking quality was the tangible uplift that it has on people. Speaking with Sanaa Quereshi, a member of the FBB staff – as well being a player/coach for Women Beyond Borders – she stated that, “I’ve been able to put my passions into practice through FBB, and I’m incredibly grateful for that opportunity. I think being involved with FBB has made me a better person – I can actually do something about my lofty ideals.”[3]

And whether those ideals are to help offset Britain’s wage inequity, or just finding a place of belonging, it was telling not only watching these young kids be given a purpose, but also finding joy in that purpose.

What would a world look like where black lives matter? While such a concept remains far from the norm[4], FBB showed me a tangible glimpse of it being actualised.

While football is often used to reinforce numerous axes of oppressive behaviour, its real appeal is when it’s distilled to its most basic nature; the childlike innocence that finds a simple delight in playing games. That’s where the sport derives its true power.

The Nation’s Dave Zirin recently envisaged a better kind of sports world, free of corporate greed and the exploitation of society’s most vulnerable. Football Beyond Borders shows that this doesn’t have to be a hypothetical.

[1] – As I’m sure you’ll notice from his Twitter handle.

[2] – I was especially happy to hear about Cazorla, for… reasons.

[3] – Further testimonies can be found on the FBB website.

[4] – Walter Scott and Justus Howell are the latest to be snatched away.

Football Beyond Borders has a Just Giving page in order to launch their own YouTube channel. They will be accepting pledges until April 11th.


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A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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