'Football is everything': Camden United on tackling knife crime and supporting community
- Credit: Siobhan Bradhsaw
In a football week dominated by the selfish pursuits of the breakaway European Super League, a caring grassroots Camden club has pledged to support its local community.
Camden United FC was set up in 2019 by a group of friends from across the borough – with a strong social conscience, and a desire to make positive change.
Made up of men from working-class families from a range of different backgrounds and ethnicities, the club has set out to tackle knife crime through the power of football.
Players know first-hand the huge toll knife crime has had on their own lives, and those closest to them.
“Every member in our men’s team knows someone affected by knife crime. It's a crazy thing to say considering we live in central London,” Camden United’s co-founder Hafid Ali told the Ham&High.
“I remember us all before any of these things happened, and I remember how innocent we were and I've seen how easy it is to go down the wrong path.
“The people that are involved in knife crime, growing up they weren’t bad people, it’s just life happened and different things put them in the position that they are in now.
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“I could have easily gone down the wrong path so I want to prevent that happening to other people.”
Using the pain of loss, the amateur club has set out to prevent children in the area falling into knife crime.
In addition to its men’s 11-a-side team, Camden United has created two youth sides – for under-12s and under-14s.
The training sessions held in a Somers Town estate are for local kids, and are provided for free by club volunteers.
“Parents see us from their balconies or their windows and they send their kids down to join us,” Hafid, 24, said.
“So it has grown from that and now we've got around 25 to 30 children between the ages of 10 to 14 that are training with us."
By reducing or removing playing costs entirely, Camden United is trying to make football more accessible.
The grassroots team has been able to buy training equipment and kits, having been supported with grant funding from the Francis Crick Institute.
Having grown up in families from poorer backgrounds, Hafid said he and other players’ parents often couldn’t afford for their kids to continue playing – causing them to drop out of the game.
So the 24-year-old is acutely aware of the need to help his area provide opportunities – and the opportunities football presents itself.
“Football is literally amazing. It’s the tool that brings people together,” Hafid said.
“Even with all the change happening in Camden, you've got really rich people living next to poor people.
“And football brings everyone together in so many different ways, like different religions, different backgrounds, different classes. It's so powerful.”
On a personal level, Hafid credits the people’s game as the driving force in helping turn his life around.
“Before we set up the football club I had no purpose in life, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said.
“And then through setting up the football club I actually managed to get a job out of it. I got in touch with the charity Camden Giving about applying for funding for the football club.
“They ended up liking me and they invited me for an interview for the role of grants officer. Now, a year later, I’m the head of grants programmes – and it’s all because of football.
“Literally, if it wasn’t for football I wouldn't be here right now.”
Looking to the future, Hafid said Camden United wants to grow in the short-term and expand its number of teams.
But in the long term, the co-founder said the grassroots side wants to set up a youth club for the local community. He called on more funding for youth services to tackle knife crime.
“A lot of the time there are lots of people doing amazing work, but a lot of the time they're not from the community,” the 24-year-old said.
“They don't really understand what's behind closed doors, so we need more people from the community trying to make a change in the community.”