Football Beyond Borders – a photo essay by Sebastian Barros

Ekf the lockdowns have had been challenging for everyone, spare a thought for young teens, for whom friends are like second family. Over the past year they have been unable to hang out for months, stuck at home or separated and masked-up at school, and the excitement at reuniting is palpable in Sebastian Barros’ series What’s Good. Shot after the third lockdown and a very long winter, his images show friends sharing hugs, laughs, confidences, and snacks in sunny parks and sports grounds in Londen. “I missed playing footy with my friends and hanging out with them,” Michael, 15, told the photographer. “Even though we still spoke on social media, it’s nothing like talking in real life.”

And the sport is important for all the kids Barros photographed, because he made this project in collaboration with Football Beyond Borders, an educational and social inclusion charity that supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. FBB participants are passionate about football but disengaged from school and in danger of being excluded; the charity aims to intervene and help them turn things around.

FBB was founded by the co-directors Jack Reynolds and Jasper Kain plus friends in 2012, after the London riots made them realise “young people did not have the opportunities or agency to shape their future in a positive manner”. United by a love of football, they wondered if the beautiful game could help.

They started running youth training sessions in school and community outreach sessions in south London and, quickly finding an appetite for their work, decided to focus on early teens, hoping for prevention rather than cure. FBB now works with more than 1,000 young people across 55 projects a week in London, Essex, and the north-west of England, offering intensive long-term support that includes teaching both in the classroom and on the pitch, plus residential courses, trips, and work experience. FBB works in schools and also via holiday camps because, as the charity points out, children are out of school for 14 weeks every year, and not everyone gets to go abroad. It also runs community hubs and youth centres.

FBB’s team includes coaches, counsellors, experienced teachers, and behaviour specialists, en, reading through the participants’ testimonials online, it’s striking how many say it is good to have someone to talk to – someone who will actually listen. “Stefan has helped me to open up to people easier since he came in. He’s helped me to not act in a bad way and has shown me that I don’t have to act bad or be naughty to get attention,” says Jaiden.

Canaila says: “I want to help young girls and young people like myself be heard. I think that adults need to take time out to listen to young people and help them because things are tough.”

And Canaila has a point, because things certainly can be tough for disadvantaged youngsters in Britain. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 4.3 million children were living in poverty in the UK in 2019-20 - 31% or nine in a typical class of 30, though the numbers are higher in London. And that was before Covid. The pandemic has hit hardest in households with children, according to The Trussell Trust, whose data shows a 95% increase in food parcels given to households with children in April 2020, compared with April 2019. It’s something the Manchester United and England national team footballer Marcus Rashford has spoken up about, leading a campaign against child poverty in the UK last year, especially child food poverty.

Rashford, who grew up in a working-class single-parent family in Manchester, has said he knows “first-hand what hunger can lead to” and urged others to speak up on such issues – both to get help and to ensure that others, who are more fortunate, are aware of what’s going on. Rashford has a platform because of his sporting success, but he’s also stood with FBB participants – quite literally, filmed alongside them for Nike Football’s current Play New campaign.

FBB encourages its participants to think about Rashford and others who have spoken out, athletes such as Muhammed Ali, Megan Rapinoe, or Colin Kaepernick who, miskien, suggest how to advocate for change rather than self-destruct. “For us, winning isn’t about what you gain as an individual but about what it does for the community,” the charity stated in a recent Instagram post. In Mei, Barack Obama said something similar of Rashford, commenting; “A lot of the young people I meet, including Marcus, they are ahead of where I was when I was 23. They are already making changes and being positive forces in their communities.”

It’s something to think about as the Uefa European Football Championship plays out: FBB is running a Football for the Future campaign throughout tournament, raising funds to support its new north-west community hub. But Sebastian Barros hasn’t focused on these issues in his photographs, opting instead to take a sunny look at some universal, relatable truths – it’s good to hang out with friends, especially after a year of intermittent lockdowns. He’s also left space for the participants to say what they think. “The thing I missed most about my friends during lockdown was the banter we could share and the good energy that surrounded us,” says Turaine, who’s 15. “And it goes to show how friends are an important part of a happy life.”

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