Kevin Garside: It might seem like taking coals to Newcastle, but these Geordie lads are on an admirable mission, taking football to Brazil

We are going there to help with education, sport and targeting disadvantaged kids in the favelas

Have you heard the one about the two English coaches heading to Brazil to spread the football gospel in World Cup year? Don’t laugh. I give you Craig Robson and Michael Gardiner, Geordie boys following in the footsteps of the British railwaymen who introduced  jogo bonito to Sao Paulo 120 years ago.

If you are wondering what two lads from Newcastle might teach the masters of the universe about kicking a ball, the answer lies not in technique but inclusion. Robson, a sports science graduate from Northumbria University, and Gardiner, a graduate of low-paid toil in the Toon, are youth coaches attached to StreetGames and Lionsraw, organisations which, through football, seek to engage the socially disadvantaged in Britain’s urban wastelands and beyond.

This is the other side of football, far removed from the excess and one-eyed fanaticism of the professional product. The programmes that have worked so well in the North-east, and have been exported to South Africa and Poland during major championship years with significant results, are to be rolled out in the favelas. The ghetto communities of Curitiba, a World Cup host, are not so very different from inner-city Britain; the same sense of hopelessness and alienation pervades.

Michael speaks from experience. His life was going nowhere slowly, an aimless plod devoid of meaning and purpose. “I left school after A-levels and was bouncing around from job to job, existing not living. I was working in a glass factory in Newcastle. I was there for eight months and dreaded going in every day. I thought, ‘there has to be more to life than this’. Through coaching I found out there was.

“I went into my local club, Westgate Juniors, working with kids just starting out in grass-roots football. Their first impression of kicking a ball is the most important step a kid takes. If that experience is bad it can put them off sport for life. The club started off with one team; it now has 16 or 17.”

The progression through the volunteer sector was the same for both, coming via the Co-operative StreetGames Young Volunteer Programme in Newcastle, a project that aims to give young adults from deprived communities the opportunity to gain confidence, life skills and ultimately qualifications linked to teaching sport to their peers. The charity has close links to the fan-based movement Lionsraw, which was launched in the North-east by football philanthropist Jon Burns.

“I worked over in Poland with Craig and spent two months in London on a work placement with Coca-Cola. That meant being around the Olympic Park in the middle of the most amazing atmosphere that sport has brought to this country. That inspired me to go on to the next thing, which is taking me to Brazil,” Michael said.

He and Craig are both FA level 2 qualified, and through the StreetGames charity are certificated to teach multi-sports programmes. Craig was recruited from North Tyneside Council on sabbatical. “The aim in Brazil is to inspire young people to learn English and get involved in something positive. Brazil is already a massive talking point. The protests about education and health at the Confederations Cup, about how money is being spent, have made football topical. The reaction from Brazil to what we are doing has been amazing. They can’t believe we are going over there to help with education, sport and targeting disadvantaged kids, people affected by crime and drugs.”

Videos made by the pair have been picked up off YouTube by national broadcaster Globo and played to the Brazilian audience with subtitles. They are showered with images that boil life down to the essentials, including kids of all colours and creeds revelling in the free association and expression that sport permits. The scenes were shot in Newcastle, but the message is universal.

As part of the Newcastle-goes-to-Brazil theme, the boys have taken their story to primary schools across the city on specially designated Brazil days. The kids learn about Brazilian culture, eat Brazilian food, play a bit of footy and dance to the samba beat played by Brazilian musicians. Engagement and learning through entertainment: you cannae beat it.

“We could go to Brazil and do the very minimum and get involved in the tourist thing, but that is not us. We are going there to work, to hopefully develop some really cool programmes that will lead to something really special,” Michael said. “Lionsraw is about people who love football going out there and doing good work, to go into communities and coach thousands of kids, build community centres and medical centres.

“In Poland we rebuilt a shower block in a youth detention centre that had fallen into disrepair; worked with more than 1,000 children in primary schools, drug rehab centres and detention centres. In South Africa they built an orphanage and a school in the Valley of a Thousand Hills.”

Howay the lads!

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine