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Alan Sefton: 'Arsenal was the first football club to embrace working in the community'

PUBLISHED: 13:10 30 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:50 30 October 2017

Alan Sefton, head of Arsenal in the Community. Picture: David Price/Arsenal Football Club

Alan Sefton, head of Arsenal in the Community. Picture: David Price/Arsenal Football Club

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Alan Sefton has been the brainchild of Arsenal's brilliant community programme for 31 years. He tells the Gazette why it's his dream job.

Thierry Henry and Arsenal in the Community leader Alan Sefton in 2015. Picture: David Price/Arsenal Football ClubThierry Henry and Arsenal in the Community leader Alan Sefton in 2015. Picture: David Price/Arsenal Football Club

The Gazette is profiling Alan Sefton on the suggestion of Arsenal’s press office. But he’s unhappy with the limelight.

Alan, head of Arsenal in the Community since its inception 31 years ago, urges: “I want you to make this clear – it’s not about me!

“Arsenal in the Community works as a team. We have a very sizable team, and to deliver, it needs to be very competent and very dedicated.”

He reiterates: “I’m just one part of it.”

"The most satisfaction for me in that Arsenal in the Community is such an intrinsic part of the football club. Whatever your characteristics, you can get involved. I’m very proud of that."

Alan Sefton

But whether he likes it or not, Arsenal in the Community is down to him. It’s thanks to Alan that the club now has such a wide reach (5,000 people a week) in Islington and beyond, from “Kicks” sessions in the Elthorne Estate to backing youth homeless charity Centrepoint.

Of his three decades at the club, he jokes: “I’m like Arsene [Wenger] – we’re both survivors.

“I have been involved with football in the community from the very beginning. When I was doing a Master’s degree, I went down to Portsmouth. Within a couple of days, I was doing things in the community.”

Alan would later move on to the Sports Council. He was stationed in north London, tasked with meeting club bosses suggesting how they could get involved with the community.

Arsene Wenger and Alan Sefton open the Arsenal in the Community hub in Benwell Road in 2015. Picture: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty ImagesArsene Wenger and Alan Sefton open the Arsenal in the Community hub in Benwell Road in 2015. Picture: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

That particiular boss was one Ken Friar, the director who now has 71 years of service at the club. “He told me: ‘If you want us to do this, you better come and do it for us.’ It was a dream come true, and is still a dream for me now.

“In my opinion, Arsenal was – and still is – the biggest club in London. And the best thing is, Arsenal was the first to wholeheartedly embrace working in the community. It has put everything into it. When I started, football clubs working in the community were on the fringe. Today, it’s very much mainstream. Every club is involved. I’d like to think Arsenal’s example is a factor in that.”

Asked what gives him the most pride in his work, Alan says: “The most satisfaction for me in that Arsenal in the Community is such an intrinsic part of the football club. All the projects are terrific. Look at our sports provision: we do football for everyone from amputees to the visually impaired.

“We are very inclusive: ‘Arsenal for everyone.’ Whatever your characteristics, you can get involved. I’m very proud of that.”

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