Youth worker fighting for young South Londoner’s access to free football

A youth worker has been fighting to ensure young people in South London have access to free football after he noticed a lack of community football spaces in some of the most deprived areas.

Kieran Connolly, 36, from Catford, runs 11 free Sports Fun For All (SF4A) sessions for young people aged three to 19 across Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley.

Mr Connolly said: “When I was growing up, everyone in the area went down to a pitch in Catford – Catford Pitz – to play football for free.

“It was bought by St. Dunstan’s private school in 2011 so kids can’t play there anymore.

“There just aren’t enough football pitches and sports venues open to the community anymore.”

Kieran Connolly, founder of SF4A (Picture: South London Press / Takenya K Holness)

Mr Connolly, who is trained in sports development and youth work, explained that free football sessions offer young men a much-needed safe space to be outside with their friends.

He said: “The streets aren’t a safe space for young men to be hanging around and a lot of young people don’t have a place to go.

“Especially in the north of Lewisham there aren’t many green spaces, there’s a lot of tower blocks with no gardens and teenagers sharing bedrooms with siblings.”

In 2016 Mr Connolly founded SF4A after he noticed an unused astroturf near his gym in Downham, Lewisham, and applied for council funding.

SF4A sessions are for young people aged three to 19 across Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley (Picture: South London Press / Takenya K Holness)

He started delivering two football sessions a week at Bellingham Green and Downham Leisure Centre, funded through Lewisham Assembly Funding. 

But Mr Connolly faced many challenges. Since 2016, SF4A has been forced out of locations due to venues hiking their prices or pitches being privatised by universities and private schools.

He said: “Goldsmiths University has every hour of community usage at Deptford Green Secondary School’s pitch, so we weren’t able to hire the venue.

“We had to give up the Downham pitch in 2018 because it got too expensive and moved to Bromley Youth Club instead.

“We used the outdoor pitch over summer there, but when we tried to move back inside the hall had been hired out by a spin class – so we were pushed out of there too.”

The venues run from eight different South London venues each week (Picture: South London Press / Takenya K Holness)

By 2019, his council funding had run out. He said: “I decided to start from scratch. I registered as a charity and we got the funding.”

In April 2021, Mr Connolly made SF4A his full-time job – setting up three sessions a week across South London as well as weekend sessions.

Mr Connolly said: “It makes me feel proud – I feel like I’m filling a void in the community.

“When these kids come to play, at first they’re not too bothered about the staff but after a few months you build trust and relationships.

“A lot of the young men who come to us have no positive male role models – they might not have adults that give them positive praise.”

“All our coaches are local people – they were these young boys 10 years ago so it sets a positive example.”

SF4A will be running Christmas sessions at Downham Leisure Centre, in Moorside Road, Lewisham, on December 22, 27, 28 and 29.

To find out more visit: https://sportsfun4all.com/sessions/downham-football-club/

Pictured top: Kieran Connolly on far left of a SF4A team at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (Picture: South London Press / Takenya H Holness)

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