Inside Hackney: Bobby Kasanga

Bobby Kasanga comes from Peckham in south London. A semi-professional football player, he became involved in gang activity and ended up serving nearly eight years in prison. On his release Bobby moved to Hackney and turned his life around, giving the borough its own football team plus a huge donation of energy and commitment to community projects. Bobby is the coach of Hackney Wick FC’s first team, as well as a key player and an inspiration.

‘When I came out of prison I moved to Hackney to get a new start, and I was struck that there was no local team for people to get behind. The multiple pitches at Hackney Marsh are one of the best training grounds in the world, a multicultural Mecca for aspiring footballers. So why aren’t we training up our own players?

We started with the idea that the team could become semi-professional after five years, and we’re really excited to have achieved this goal after only two years – our team is merging with London Bari FC from Forest Gate. We don’t yet have the facilities required by the FA, so we’ll be moving the matches out of the borough, but training will carry on here in Mabley Green. In the future though, we’d like to develop facilities so that Hackney’s team can perform locally.

There has been a huge growth in women’s football – we started out offering free training to the Hackney Wick Women’s Institute, and that has grown into a fully fledged women’s team. We also have kids’ teams for both boys and girls. Anyone who just wants to get into good shape regardless of footballing interest or ability can join our fitness sessions – we meet on Tuesday at 6.30pm every week outside Hackney Town Hall.

All our players also get involved in community projects – for example we hand out water to runners during the Hackney Half Marathon. Using my personal experience I go into schools to talk to kids about gangs and ways to resist peer pressure. We hope to start a summer camp to engage kids and keep them out of trouble during the school break.

Among the adult players, some of the women’s team have shared their skills and run professional training and CV sessions to help fellow team members into work, which is an unexpected benefit.

We’d love more people to join us on the pitch or for training sessions. And also to feel that they don’t need to go to Arsenal or Tottenham to see a great match. Come and support the borough’s own team, buy one of our T-shirts or tracksuits and wear the black and gold of Hackney Wick!’