The Premier League is celebrating 15 years of its flagship community programme, Premier League Kicks, this month.
The programme has supported hundreds of thousands of young people to achieve their potential and improve their wellbeing through free weekly football sessions and educational workshops.
Premier League (PL) Kicks began in the 2006/07 season in partnership with the Metropolitan Police, with the aim of involving and supporting young people in regular, positive, and fun activity, whilst helping to create stronger, safer, more inclusive communities.
Over the past 15 years West Ham United (WHU) Foundation’s sessions have grown tremendously, engaging with approximately 200 young people in its first year to now nearly 10,000.
Member of Parliament for East Ham, Stephen Timms MP, commented: “To have a programme like this associated with the club is a fantastic draw. Lots of traditional youth centres have gone over the last decade or so and so what this is providing for local young people is really, really important and I value it very highly.”
Najma Shariffu started going to the WHU Foundation PL Kicks programme eleven years ago, and could never have predicted where her association with the scheme would take her.
“I just wanted a place where I could have fun and relax and just enjoy with my friends,” she said. “When I first started, I was extremely shy. I struggled a little bit with my anxiety, so it was hard for me to go into new situations and interact with people that I didn’t know.”
With the support of WHU Foundation coaches, Najma began to overcome her fears and form bonds with those around her at Kicks.
“I wanted to develop my playing ability but then when I came, and I realised that I’ve built relationships with coaches and with players, I kind of just wanted to continue to come to enjoy, have some sort of a break from my day to day,” she said.
And that development played an important part in helping Najma progress from nervous participant to programme coach and co-ordinator.
“When I first started coaching, I didn’t know how to project my voice so that the participants could hear me,” she stated.
“I didn’t know how to best engage with them to make sure that I was getting the most out of their development. But now I’ve been able to overcome all of those through building my confidence.”
After volunteering with the programme and completing her college studies, Najma became a full-time PL Kicks coach in 2017, helping to mentor the next generation.
“I was given the opportunity to volunteer as a coach as well as opportunities to take part in employability programmes,” she recalled.
“So, I gained my FA Level 1 badge and then just started volunteering, coaching the young people. I thought that that was the best way for me to give back from everything that I gained from here.”
To mark the 15-year anniversary of PL Kicks, clubs are celebrating their own ‘PL Kicks Local Legend’ with the Hammers recognising Najma. As part of the activities, former West Ham striker Carlton Cole presented Najma with her own Panini card.
Speaking about his engagement with the programme, Carlton said: “I came to [WHU Foundation’s] Premier League Kicks at the start of it, just to support, and it’s just brilliant that they’re still continuing to give back to the community because communities like this, especially in the Newham borough – around the West Ham United area – it goes along way with the kids. It keeps them off the street and makes them have a direction.
“The Premier League have obviously put a lot into this and made sure that it is free and accessible to all of the youth around this area.”
Joseph Lyons, WHU Foundation CEO, explained that the PL Kicks programme has been crucial in helping to offer stability and support to youngsters in high-need areas.
“Premier League Kicks has really given us the foundation that we needed in terms of engaging with young people from the local area. It has also helped to create a safe environment where young people can enjoy their football,” he said.
“To be able to recognise Najma in this way and reflect on her journey with us so far is fantastic. It highlights the importance of this programme, not only to us as an organisation, but to the thousands that benefit from it each year.”