Sport on TV: Wright hits the bars in a game that always goes to penalties
Sunday 13 September 2009
Ian Wright is trying to set up a system of football academies in prisons across Britain. In Football Behind Bars (Sky One, Monday) he begins his quest at Portland Young Offenders Institute, on a remote island off the Dorset Coast with 48 young lags boasting 150 years between them for offences including armed robbery and attempted murder. "Who do you want to go and do something like this?" he asks. "Gary Lineker?" Well frankly, Wrighty, yes, that would be quite entertaining.
In fact the Arsenal legend is just the man for the job. His professional career didn't start until he was 22, astonishingly late in life, especially in these days of "child-poaching". And at 19, Wright was banged up in Chelmsford Institute for a week for driving cars without insurance. "Sleeping next to rapists, nonces, murderers... I realised then that I wasn't coming back," he says.
And Ian Wrong is in trouble again, for helping to set up an academy in South Africa, their FA's chief executive, Raymond Hack, accusing him of "raping the country" by captivating its children with dreams of untold riches in foreign lands.
One of his prospects here, Adrian Clifton, is an object lesson in the perils that face British boys, let alone Africans. He was a youth player at Arsenal from the age of 11 to 15 – his only role models were Wright and Thierry Henry – but failure to make the grade "scarred" him and he is now serving his third stretch. This is the central problem, that 70 per cent of inmates reoffend within two years. Wright is determined to use football to stop this cycle of despair. As governor Steve Holland says: "This can break the revolving door of reoffending." So long as they don't go around breaking revolving doors.
Half the inmates volunteer for the selection process, but only 22 will be chosen. If prison is all about looking after No 1, Wright is in trouble straightaway. Before the first training session he hears that his goalkeeper Sharpey is due for release. There is regret on both sides but since this is his fourth spell inside, he might be back for the first game.
The second-choice goalie – or should that be "gaolie" – Lee Carmio is very sniffy about the academy's new, smelly living quarters, having previously been on "special privileges". It sounds like he has all the makings of a Premier League footballer when he's on the outside.
* Wright kicked off his series with the words "Like Yorkies, football's not for girls". What did England's women make of that as they headed for their first major final in 25 years in the European Championships (Eurosport, Thursday)? They might prefer the company of the excellently named German Eurosport presenter Hans Finger, whose multilingual abilities are bound to be a favourite with the frauleins.
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