Wednesday 06 March 2019, 15:38

Football and Pythian spirit uniting in Nottingham

  • Nottingham’s Pythian Club using football to help get violence off streets

  • Founder Ben Rosser out to inspire participants into work and education

  • Named the FA’s Grassroots Award for Community Project of the year in 2018

Across the world, as children grow into teenagers and then young adults, all too often they are faced with difficult choices as they negotiate growing up in a city.

After a decade in the police, Nottingham’s Ben Rosser knows that all too well. “I saw young people following the wrong role models in my area and doing things that were going to get themselves not just in trouble, but hurt. In some cases, seriously or worse,” he told “As a police officer I wanted to do something about that.”

Knife crime in the English city, often linked to drugs and gangs, is at its highest level since statistics were first published in 2011. It’s a pressing issue that Rosser has spent the last five years dedicating his life to help tackle, after he felt budget cuts saw “the heart and soul ripped out of” the police force’s ability to proactively make a difference.

Having grown up in the area, he founded the Pythian Club to bring young people together from across the city and get them active in a positive way. How did it all start? With football.

“Initially it was just football sessions down at local parks with a couple of cones. We probably only had 15-20 young people, but it grew from there. Sport brings people together,” he explained, having spent time in South Africa and seen the impact football and rugby had in uniting people all too used to conflict.

“You have teenagers from different postcodes that maybe have a bit of rivalry coming together – so next time when they see each other out in town there’s a common thing of being at football with each other,” Rosser added, having seen the project win the FA Grassroots award for best community project in 2018.

As well as growing in numbers – and those helping him, the programme has also grown in scope, with boxing, music and theatre all combining to reach as many in the community as possible to provide positive outlets for those falling between the cracks in society.

“They might be disillusioned, lost, living in a world of waking up, selling drugs, having to watch their back,” Rosser said, as around 50 young adults aged between 15-18 took part in a two-hour session of matches on a Friday evening. “We start by trying to get them into a positive lifestyle.”

That goes well beyond a simple kickabout on an evening. As well as having a pair of amateur football teams that play on a weekend, the more engaged members of the Pythian can look to earn coaching badges and take part in a range of programmes to help their future employability. Partnerships with the FA and Nottingham Forest FC have only made developing the range of opportunities even easier.

Mccauley Lewis is one such member of the Pythian Young Leaders reaping some of the benefits. “Being involved is giving something back to the community that the youngsters don’t really have,” he said. “It’s very rewarding putting on these sessions, and when we go home at night we know we’ve done a good deed for them.

“It brings different groups together in the community. There’s always violence between other areas, so this brings them all together, doing something they enjoy and they’re making friends.”

Part of that is very much down to Rosser and his all-encompassing approach to the club, with Lewis saying he is “a father figure” to those involved – a role Rosser anticipated he’d have to adopt to see the positive results he wanted.

“What I tell them is, ‘You’ve got my personal number, you’re part of our family, so if you need anything, let us know.' It is full on, and I understood when I started the Pythian Club that it was probably going to be something that went with me forever. It’s my baby. I’ve started something that I can’t just finish, and I had to be prepared to deal with that.”

Willing to be there to support club members during the likes of disciplinary issues at school, college or with the police, he has been able to build bonds with disengaged young people. They have the club to guide them down paths back into education, jobs and opportunities to improve their future.

“Once you get their trust, you begin to start moulding a young person into a leader and can give them the tools to be one.”

And football provided that first step.