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Life Goals: Bobby Kasanga

In his early years, Bobby Kasanga was a talented footballer who had represented his county and played at a high level of the semi-professional game. His future looked promising, but football wasn’t the only big influence on him during this time. He was also greatly affected by his older brother, who was “part of the roads”, something which ultimately led towards a path of crime and misconduct.

“I was young and ignorant at the time,” he says, “and when your older brother, who you see as ‘cool’, is doing these things and making a ton of cash from it, it’s hard to turn that kind of money away. I got caught up in it all, stealing and breaking open large boxes containing cash from events, but eventually too many incidents led back to me. The police caught me, leading to me spending eight years in prison and totally wasting a good career within football.”

Over this time, he ultimately came to realise he wanted to turn things around for himself – and for others. “I knew I wanted to give back to the community I had previously taken so much from,” he says. “Obviously at the time it wasn’t nice. Prison is not a position anybody wants to find themselves in, but equally it did give me enough time to reflect, and to realise if I carry on doing what I’ve been previously doing, I’m just going to waste more of my life away.”

Drawing on his own skills, he felt the best way he could do something positive would be to provide young people with a platform to escape a criminal life, and invest themselves into football instead.

It began initially as a few friends playing together once a week, but the fledgling Hackney Wick FC is now a semi-professional club with a men’s, a women’s and multiple youth teams. Bobby has created a vibrant football club that interacts with the community much more than most teams, and has consequently picked up interest to work on projects by the likes of top level sponsors including Nike.

“We’ve already got another collaboration with Nike lined up for when we introduce our third kit later on in the year,” he reveals, “as well as numerous other opportunities with ITV and other broadcasters in order to promote ourselves. The next step is to replicate that level of success on the pitch, and then who knows what could happen in a few years.”

The next big hurdle to be overcome is that there currently isn’t any stadium with a capacity at this level in the entire borough of Hackney. As a result, this season Hackney Wick are playing at Witham FC’s stadium as their home ground.

I asked Bobby for the update on this, and he said “Witham were lovely hosts when I went to visit them, so I have absolutely no problem with us having to share grounds with them this season. In terms of our own ground, we are in talks with certain investors who are looking at the possibility of having a new stadium built in Hackney in the next year or so. This is obviously very exciting, not just for us, but for the whole community to have the opportunity to come down and see their local semi-professional team play regularly.”

It gives the younger boys in the team something else to aspire towards, being able to say to themselves ‘I’m going to play in a stadium like that or even bigger one day’. Bobby’s formula for steering others towards better life choices is working, his own ‘wasted’ football career instead turning out to be something so much bigger.

The Players Speak

ALEX:  “Playing for this club has been a huge honour, not only to represent the team, but also the community I’ve grown up in for the first 18 years of my life. I’m genuinely humbled by that. I think Bobby’s story is an inspiration to us all, which is a motivation to perform on the pitch, so he can focus on growing us when we’re off it, too.”

VALDEMAR: “These last few years have been amazing, playing for a semi pro football club, let alone one that’s in your local area. Not only is it great for the players, but for the fans as well, since kids realistically have a competitive football team they can strive to represent. It’s obviously a great motivator to stay off the streets, which is ultimately the goal of the club.”

JERMAINE: “Having played for the U18s and now the first team, I can see how this club ‘takes boys and makes men’. Everyone here has helped me not only become a better footballer, but a better person too. I’m extremely grateful for that, as well as the opportunities I’ve had because of it. Hopefully one day I can repay that by moving on to a big club and showing everyone in football that Hackney Wick is a force to be reckoned with.”

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