Bobby Kasanga

Bobby spent eight years in prison for gang-related crime but is now the driving force behind a football club that has become the heart of the community.

Bobby became a game-changer in his community when, in January 2015, he established Hackney Wick FC following his release from prison.

He’s had a passion for football since he was a kid, but it was while he was inside that he saw the real power of the beautiful game.

“Whenever there was a football session, people behaved themselves throughout the day because they wanted to go to football,” he says. “I realised I could use my passion for football as a catalyst to change people’s behaviours. The more people play, the less time they’ve got to be involved in gangs.”

Inspired, Bobby decided he wanted to start a football club with a purpose, one that has made a real impact in his community – but it was far from easy. Facing start-up costs of around £6,000 and having just got out of prison, Bobby took to the streets with a charity bucket and “got £100 here, £2 there and 50p there”.

And thanks to his tireless enthusiasm, energy and skill, Hackney Wick FC have enjoyed an extraordinary rise.

With 17 teams and a string of awards, this season the club turned semi-pro and played in the FA Cup for the first time. There is a strong women’s team and an academy with 250 junior members.

But Bobby’s vision for his club is aiming far higher than simply climbing up the league. Setting it up under the banner “Our Borough, Our Club”, his aim was to create a club which inspires social change and helps people to integrate and connect with their community.

By reaching out, Bobby believes, he can unify the community and send a clear message at a grass-roots level that there is an alternative to a life of crime.

“Football is a unifier,” he says. “You can be the biggest, baddest gangster in the world, but as soon as you see a football it makes you feel like a child again and you want to have a touch of the ball.”

The club regularly sends its players to local schools to educate kids on the dangers of gang crime, offers elderly members of the community free tickets and travel to matches, and sets up games against prison teams.

Bobby helps to rehabilitate other ex-offenders by encouraging them to turn their lives around when they’re released. Three former prisoners now play for Hackney Wick FC’s first team. He says: “When it comes to being anti-crime, one thing I can do is point out I’ve been there.

“I know what I’m talking about.”

The club has also helped team members get their first step on the employment ladder. “Through playing with the football club, the members can learn leadership skills, how to negotiate, how to command authority and how to work with others,” adds Bobby. “Importantly, it keeps them away from trouble and enables them to support their families.”

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