From crime to grime – how hackney wick fc are challenging gang culture in inner london best dry vermouth for dirty vodka martini

Bobby kasanga remembers precisely what it was that first drew him into crime. “trainers,” he says. “my brother was big in local gangs and was buying new trainers all the time. His were always box fresh. Me, I still had the same pair I’d had for two years. I wanted shoes like his. I wanted some of his status. Simple as that.”

A bright, articulate teenager, doing well in his studies, reckoned a real prospect of a footballer, kasanga still found the lure of easy money from crime impossible to resist. He wanted those trainers.

“I had everything going for me: college, football, I had a good part-time job. It should have been enough. I should have been leading a productive life. Instead I spent most of my 20s doing time.”

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It is a pattern he sees being played out across modern london: black teenagers succumbing to criminal temptation when they could offer so much.

The city, he reckons, is littered with squandered opportunity, wasted potential, lives torpedoed by crime. Which is why, three years ago, when he came out of prison for what he was determined would be the last time, he decided he was going to do something about it.

In january 2015, he established hackney wick FC. And, within three seasons, thanks to his tireless enthusiasm, energy and skill in accessing funds, the first team are playing semi-professionally in the middlesex senior league, there is a women’s team and the club have 250 junior playing members.Their founder this season they played in the FA cup for the first time and drew over 750 for a derby with clapton FC. And their founder has ambition to climb much higher.

“I see AFC wimbledon as our role model,” he says. “twenty years ago, they didn’t exist. Now they are in league one with a new stadium planned. Given where we’ve got in three years, I can’t see why we shouldn’t be thinking of doing the same.”

The point about hackney wick, their founder says, is that they were not established as an ordinary club. They are ones with a message. This was a club set up to challenge the supremacy of crime, to give proper alternative to gang culture. By locking the club into the community, the intention is to address the growing dislocation between the youth and the mainstream where criminality festers.Gang culture thus everyone who joins has to guarantee to do a minimum of two hours a month voluntary work in hackney.

At the hackney half-marathon run through the borough last june, the players manned the drinks stations. Every week, “wickers”, as the members of the club are known, visit old people. They have played against prison teams. Only by reaching out, kasanga says, can they help themselves.

“we have a collective ambition to represent our borough positively,” he says. “we’ve got more than 250 people playing for us. Yeah, maybe they’d be playing elsewhere. But when they come here we can try to deliver our message. And when it comes to being anti-crime, one thing I can do is point out I’ve been there.Their founder I know what I’m talking about.”

He remembers, for instance, being on the team bus about to make his debut for ashford in the ryman league, when his phone rang. He knew his fellow gang members were planning a robbery on a security van (“everyone in london was doing security vans at the time,” he says). But the call told him that, after the raid, there had been a row about splitting the proceeds during which his best mate had been stabbed to death.

The following week, in the attempt to conduct a revenge shooting on the guy who had wielded the knife, an innocent party was shot dead. He was nowhere near it, but kasanga was reckoned the prime suspect for the killing and arrested. Because he had an alibi (he was at football training) he was bailed.Their founder

“at this point, any normal human being would have seen the signs and knocked it on the head,” he recalls. “not me. I was a right idiot. I continued robbing.”

In 2007, he was caught and sentenced to five years. When he came out, he took up where he left off, subsidising his football with the proceeds of crime.

“I knew the one thing that can really challenge crime in grabbing kids’ attention is football. Listen, it doesn’t always work. One of our players has just been sent to prison for 18 years. People are still falling through the net. It’s not an overnight process.”

But kasanga is working tirelessly to make things happen. Backed by a local property development company which pays him to run the club, he is forever seeking out new ways to secure funding for more programmes.Hackney wick in the midst of a relegation fight exacerbated by weather-related postponements, last month he contacted william hill to see if it might sponsor the club. So intrigued was the bookmaker by his story, it offered him the services of robbie savage, to play for the wick as a publicity stunt in the last few matches of the season. Unfortunately, savage declined the opportunity.