BY EDMUND BRACK
A breeding ground for South London footballers is situated in the heart of Croydon.
Kinetic Foundation reached the milestone last month of producing and nurturing the transition of 50 footballers into professional academies when Fernando Macedo joined Sheffield United.
With two additional signings pushing the total to 52, and three more players set to sign for academies come January, the route to the next 50 is already well under way.
The registered charity was formed in 2011 when Harry Hudson peered out of his Croydon home on the evening of August 8 and saw Reeves Furniture store alight amongst the chaos that ensued during the London Riots.
“It drove a eureka moment,” explains Hudson to the South London Press.
“With the narrative that a lot of the press were driving at the time about the young people who were involved in the looting and the riots, it felt as though they were saying: ‘These were bad kids who were born bad. Lock them up and throw away the key’.’
“I just knew that wasn’t right, in my experience. It became a moment of demonstrating to us that there was a huge need for some initiative and proactive measures to try and combat what was happening. I had seen first-hand the power football had on communities.”
While Hudson had a career at the original Wimbledon during his formative playing days, he dived into the coaching industry after his release at 16 to obtain his badges and juggled three jobs before heading off to university.
It was during his time with Fulham’s ‘Kicks’ programme that he was dropped into the deep end – asked to use football to address a tumultuous situation between two rival gangsat on an estate between Thornton Heath and Pollards Hill on a Friday night.
“It was a daunting task,” recalls Hudson, who was 18 at the time. “It changed my trajectory in terms of the influence that sport can have – it can create positive change in people’s lives. I had been to court twice to give two character references – one for a boy who had been arrested for armed robbery and another for attempted murder.
“I got really embedded in trying to support these young people who, at that stage of their life, had very little. Football’s the only thing where young people are free to express themselves and be who they want to be. It was all formed through football, and it really changed my path.”
Equipped with his previous experiences and driven to change the portrayal that the riots had sparked, Hudson registered Kinetic Foundation as a charity. Implementing a model that he devised at university for his dissertation, Hudson kick-started one of the most established non-professional academics in the country.
Hudson and the Kinetic Foundation have cultivated a long list of lofty talent into professional academies.
Speaking on the pathway created whenever they pick up a young footballer and support them into a professional academy, Hudson said: “The biggest thing we do is try and create a good human being – that is at the centre of everything we do at Kinetic.
“If you’re a good person, then whatever your path may be, you have a good chance at being successful at it.
“From a football perspective, we focus on the tactical development of young players. Due to the talent that we get in, it’s described in football as very raw because the boys have been playing in the cage for a long time. They have good ability in the tight areas, but it’s how they impact football matches.
“That’s where we have become very successful in our approach – we look at how we turn that talent into a product and commodity that a professional club can look at and say: ‘He can play in our first team in two years’.
“There is a stigma around young players from South London, especially young black boys, that they’re just flair players and can’t impact the game. It’s the misconception that we’re trying to break down. We focus a lot tactically.
“It’s getting easier to produce players. Thankfully, we like to think that we have quite a good reputation within the game – we work with the majority of the clubs in the UK, all the way from the Premier League down to League Two.
“Clubs are now appreciating the type of player we would have, and that’s a South London thing. As an organisation, we have also got to a size where we can run mini-tours up and down the UK. For the clubs who don’t have the resources to come all the way down to London to watch our games. We take our players across the country, so more clubs are now being exposed to them.”
Their first graduate came in the shape of Myles Kenlock, who joined Ipswich Town from Kinetic after being unsigned for three seasons. The next 51 have fallen simultaneously in line – Joe Aribo (Glasgow Rangers and ex-Charlton), Kwadwo Baah (Watford), Omar Richards (Bayern Munich), Josh Maja (ex-Fulham) all honing their craft at the academy.
While Aribo has gone on to score for Nigeria against Brazil, make 81 appearances for Charlton Athletic, and lift the Scottish Premier League with Rangers, Hudson explains that: “Joe won’t mind me saying this, but he wasn’t signed before the age of 19. When he first came to us at 15, he was one of the better players, but he wasn’t the standout.
“He wasn’t good enough. You would come to a game, see that he was a good player, but there was no X factor. You wouldn’t have looked at him at that age and thought he should have been at a professional club.”
Towards the end of his U18 year, Aribo and Kinetic set off to Sweden to take part in the Gothia Cup. In a team that consisted of Richards, Ricky Korboa, Wes Fonguck and Kenlock, who all made it to professional football, Hudson had played the Camberwell-born Aribo at left centre-back in the side prior to the tournament.
However, in Sweden, Hudson says that: “The penny dropped.”
He explains: “Joe started driving that group forward – he was brilliant on that tour. He started scoring goals, and amongst all of those talented players, he had a fantastic tournament and took it back to London. He then got picked up by Charlton not long after.
“He just continued to work on his craft, developed, and improved his physicality. He’s at a level now where he is improving all the time.
“During the off-season, the players will come back and train with us, and we will get them ready for pre-season. Joe just continuously amazes me every year he comes back and how much better he has got – it doesn’t make sense that he is still developing at this rate at his age.”
Reflecting on the decade anniversary that Kinetic celebrated last year and the accelerating number of players they’re educating into professional clubs, Hudson added: “It’s crazy. We’re in our 11th year of operation, but we didn’t start our professional programme until two years in, so 55 in eight seasons is five or six a year turning pro.
“When you look at the records of how many clubs make that many pros, we’re actually ahead of quite a few professional clubs that offer their scholars out – only two or three might make it into the professional game. It’s a great thing, and I’m so proud of how many boys have gone on to do incredible things.”
While football is the backbone of their admired success, Kinetic’s drive to improve the community has seen them join together with schools, help provide scholarships to the USA and even hire alumni to become coaches.
Hudson adds: “The longer I run Kinetic and the more young people I come in contact with – maybe I have become desensitised to the success of the signings – it’s so rewarding to see the boys that we pick up at 16, maybe they have one or two GCSE’s, and they’re on a negative trajectory.
“To end up at university through us, or end up on a scholarship in the USA, or even work for Kinetic and earn a salary, it’s as rewarding for the boys who get signed because of where they may have ended up without our intervention.”
You can find out more about Kinetic by visiting their website at www.kinetic-foundation.org.uk/
PICTURES: KINETIC FOUNDATION
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