The Tulse Hill Football Club Schooling Kids On The Field To Protect Them From Knife Crime


ERIN ANIKER FOR HUFFPOST

Life at St Matthew’s Football Club starts with one simple lesson: don’t litter in the park.

“Put the rubbish in the bin,” Lee Dema, the south London club’s founder says. “That’s always been the first step since I started. It’s basic stuff. This is how you should behave and treat other people.”

But as the children get older, the lessons change.“[It’s] don’t make bad choices. Don’t hang around with the wrong people.

“It’s, ‘Do you take a knife out with you?’” he says. “And this myth, that it will protect you.

“We aren’t miracle workers, you just try and do what you can, don’t you?”

Dema knows better than most how hard it can be to get the message across. On November 5, John Ogunjobi became the sixth teenager from the St Matthew’s scheme to die as a result of knife crime, losing his life on the Tulse Hill estate, less than a 10 minute walk away from the fields he once played football.

In the days that followed Ogunjobi’s murder, the St Matthew’s Project provided vital support for the teenagers grieving for their friend, while Dema faced another unexpected battle.

Without his permission, a tweet about an agreement he’d made with the 16-year-old became front-page news. His story reveals the incredible grass-roots work being done to fight the knife crime epidemic, but also reveals the toxic media atmosphere people like him must endure. 

Dema never intended to be the founder of a football club. It all started when he began taking his daughters, and other kids from his estate, to the park for a kick about in the early 2000s. Then a parent governor at nearby primary school, he also ran a Friday night football club and was soon asked to run a summer school. But “six weeks somehow turned into 14 years” and now, running the project is a full-time…

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