• Street League uses football to tackle youth unemployment in the UK
  • Programmes in 14 British cities yielding spectacular results
  • Jose Mourinho hailed the charity as “an amazing project”

Danny O’Donnell, 18, hails from the Govan district of Glasgow. The area will be known to many football enthusiasts as the birthplace of Sir Alex Ferguson, and for forging the values that shaped his glittering career. “It’s where I learned the value of hard graft, resolve and resilience," Ferguson has said.

Much, though, has changed since the days when Sir Alex grew up in the shadow of the giant shipbuilding cranes scattered along the city’s River Clyde. Back then, even before he made his name as a footballer, the teenage Ferguson had found a secure and well paid job, signing up to a five-year tool-making apprenticeship in a local factory employing over 1500 staff.

The subsequent decline in traditional industries has left Govan’s youth of today facing a very different outlook. As Danny explained to FIFA.com: “I’ve been unemployed now for a few months and thinking, ‘What do I do next?’ Because I’ve been applying for jobs every day and getting nowhere.

“It can get you down; you start worrying you might not get anywhere in life. You leave school having done the best you possibly can and think, ‘I’m going to go far’. But it’s not like the old days, when you could just walk in somewhere and get a job. It’s much harder now, and it’s upsetting, pushing yourself to the max and not getting anywhere.”

Danny’s experience is far from unique. Almost 40 per cent of jobless people in the UK are aged 25 or under, and the youth unemployment rate in Glasgow is even higher than the national average. But while Danny provided a bleak picture of his time searching fruitlessly for a job, he was upbeat and ambitious when conversation turned to his future. The reason is that he is one of thousands of young people across the UK benefiting from a sport for employment charity with football at its heart.

As Sara McCraight, Street League’s Head of Marketing, explained: “We work with unemployed 16-to-24-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and, using the power of football, help them move into jobs, training and education through our academy programme. We work in areas with the highest deprivation and with young people who have very few qualifications and significant barriers to employment, varying from mental health issues, criminal records, lack of qualifications to a simple lack of confidence."

Street League in Numbers
1,553 young people helped into employment, education and training during the last 12-month cycle
37 programmes across 14 British cities – up from just three cities as recently as five years ago
80 per cent of participants from the most deprived areas of the UK
72 per cent of participants face at least one socio-economic barrier to employment
18 per cent have no formal qualifications at all
59 per cent of Street League graduates who find employment keep that job for at least six months

“All of our programmes are tailored to the individual," added McCraight. "We sit down with every young person who comes to us to find out what their goals are, the challenges they’re facing and how we can help build the strengths and skills they need to get to where they want to be. We genuinely believe in the power of sport to change lives for the better, and our programme really does work.”

Danny can vouch for that. He joined Street League, which is part-funded by FIFA's Football for Hope initiative, having seen friends emerge from the programme with jobs and renewed self-esteem. “I feel it’s benefiting me a lot,” he said. “When you come to Street League, you’re working on things every day that you can take into a real-life job situation and get you on a career path. The football aspect of it was a big attraction too. I love football – I play it every single day – and they make you aware here of all the ways it can help you in work and general life.”

“Football is integral to what we do,” confirmed McCraight. “Initially, it acts as the hook to engage with young people, makes the programme fun and keeps them coming back. But we also use football to teach really valuable life skills, which are vital in finding and keeping a job, such as teamwork, communication, leadership and respect for rules and authority. We even use it to teach maths and English qualifications through the likes of stats, fantasy leagues or using fractions on a football pitch. That works even with young people who struggled at school because it applies to something they are passionate about.”

The use of the beautiful game for such a worthwhile cause has not gone unrecognised. Among those to have taken note of Street League’s impressive work is Jose Mourinho, who was full of praise for the charity when he visited one of its London programmes. “This is an amazing project,” he enthused. “As a football man, I feel so proud that my sport can make such a difference in these young people's lives"

Away from the pitch, Street League’s staff hold interview, employability skills and communication workshops, help participants build their CVs and prepare them for the challenges of the workplace. Scott Smith leads that effort in the Glasgow programme and has witnessed first-hand the impact it can have. “I’ve worked with Street League for ten years and seen it help so many different people,” he said. “I always bump into people who’ve been through the programme and so often they’ll tell me they’ve now got a job, a family and what a difference it made to them.”

Danny seems well placed to become one of those success stories. On Monday, the 18-year-old began a work placement with a major department store, facilitated by Street League. Now, he is aiming high. “In the next five to ten years, I want to be a manager and, further down the line, a CEO,” he said. “Street League is helping me get a start. Once I get that, I believe I can reach the very top.”