‘I never had anything like this!’ Alex Iwobi celebrates 10 years of Arsenal ‘Kicks’ at Elthorne Park
PUBLISHED: 15:08 30 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:31 30 March 2017
He is Arsenal’s best young talent and has shared a pitch with Lionel Messi at Barcelona’s Nou Camp. But even Alex Iwobi was humbled by a visit to Elthorne Park in Hornsey Rise last night.
Iwobi, 20, was the star guest as Arsenal in the Community celebrated the 10th anniversary of its “Kicks” programme, which aims to keep young people away from crime by bringing football to their doorstep.
Elthorne Park was the first part of Islington to benefit when an all-weather pitch was built in 2008 from the proceeds of Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial.
And Iwobi, who grew up in Newham, told the Gazette: “I’m just happy to see the kids enjoying themselves – I never had this kind of opportunity growing up.”
The winger presented an award to this year’s Kicks “hero”, Dillon White. Dillon, 22, of Essex Road, embodies the Kicks philosophy. He first got involved eight years ago, when Arsenal built another pitch in Rosemary Gardens on the Islington and Hackney border.
Through this, it led to career opportunities. He is now an Arsenal community football coach, teaching kids he played with as a teen.
“Kicks changed my mindset,” he said. “It got me out my comfort zone. What Arsenal provided me with is ability to communicate with young people, and talking in groups – areas I wasn’t confident in.
“It defines who you are, on and off the pitch. When I’m out and about, I may not have my Arsenal gear on, but I’m still a member of the Arsenal community. You have to behave like it.”
Jack Ironside, Kicks co-ordinator, said Arsenal now commands the trust of young people across Islington: “We get out on the estates and parks so we’re on their doorstep.
“It’s been a long-term project of building trust, not just with football. We have sessions here at Elthorne Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. We are reliable.
“The great thing is, we have so many success stories helping people off the pitch as well, like Dillon becoming a community coach. The younger generation see these people from the same area and think: ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”