Ex-gangster’s Hackney Wick FC pioneers football for all
- Credit: Archant
A former gang member and footballer is the latest tour de force to take on Hackney’s sports scene, establishing a grassroots football club which has won high profile fans such as Diane Abbott – the club’s honorary president.
Bobby Kasanga, 29, is the founder of Hackney Wick “The Wickers” FC which played its first league game at Mabely Green on Saturday, against Stonewall FC, Britain’s first gay football club.
His inspiration came while campaigning to get more recognition for non-league football, when he came across many disgruntled players on Hackney Marshes who complained about the long distances they had to travel in order to play football at a competitive level.
Bobby, who served nearly eight years in prison, has now turned his hand to involving as many Hackney residents as possible, since being released in February this year.
He said: “Our niche as a club is that all the players go out to volunteer in the community for two hours each month and we have created a women’s team too who all receive free football coaching which started when we gave some free training to Hackney Women’s Institute.”
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He added: “There are not enough women involved in football; even if it’s not playing, I want them to feel as if they can take part in the game on an operational or board level.”
Bobby said his stint in prison helped him become more community minded.
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He said: “It definitely helped. Before that, it was all about making money and my ego but I became more of a listener and, as I started helping other prisoners, I thought I could continue that on the outside.
“I am working nights so I can have some money to put into the club.”
Ex-Ireland international footballer and publican Declan Perkins has also come on board as the club’s vice-chairman, with his popular watering hole, The Lauriston in Victoria Park village, becoming the team’s main sponsor.
Bobby said: “We are also trying to get funding for mental health projects and reach marginalised people who are isolated or elderly to get them to our games. Every Saturday we want to take people who are home alone so they can make new friends.”
Bobby sees clubs like his as the future of football, saying that in the wake of growing disillusionment in professional football, with community benefits schemes, members can own a share of the club and have a say in its management.
He said: “Our only issue is that once we get promoted, we don’t want to have to leave the borough – that goes against our whole
“All the other boroughs have big clubs who have huge followings but we have been told there is nowhere to build a stadium. That is our next challenge.”