Greenwood’s show can knock a man straight

The Way I See It

Meet Mike, or Mike Henderson to give him his full title, 25 years a petty criminal, more than two decades a guest of Her Majesty, today a member of staff with the Dallaglio Foundation. It might have been Timpson the shoe shop, but given the choice, what would you choose, turning lives around as a rugby coach or flogging shoes?

Believe it or not, the offer of work from the shoe chain was a high watermark, the source of immense satisfaction. “Timpson were very interested in me. They gave me an interview, which was a huge confidence boost. Here I am, someone with a 25-year criminal history, and they are offering me a job. Believe me, that was amazing.” 

That was three years ago after his involvement with a programme on Sky called School of Hard Knocks, which returns next week for its sixth series. Some puffs are better than others. This is one. What began as reality TV became a registered charity a year ago. That’s all the justification this column needs. Mike was one of Britain’s disenfranchised millions and his story is depressingly familiar; disengaged black kid from a large urban metropolis (Bristol), underachiever at school, low self esteem, angry, hopeless and looking for action, some positive affirmation. He found it in Bristol’s criminal underbelly, a school of seriously hard knocks, and one without a safety net.

“I grew up with a bit of a chip on my shoulder thinking black people couldn’t succeed. I was average in school. I knocked off and wanted to be with the bad boys. Because my parents had worked all their lives it seemed to me from my young perspective that they had nothing. I was done for shoplifting at 12 and incarcerated at 14. I swore I would never go back. By 16 the criminal justice system had me. I was inside for the best part of 25 years. It was a nightmare, detrimental to my family. A truly depressing experience.”

Having moved to London seeking a fresh start, Mike was intercepted by a biggish bloke outside a Jobcentre in Croydon. A day earlier, a day later, a different sliding door would have ushered him down a route leading who knows where? “I see these guys outside the job centre, one happened to be Will Greenwood, though I didn’t know him. They were trying to interview me in front of a camera. I wasn’t interested, I told them to go away and leave me alone. Then he mentioned the rugby. That was one element of my school life in Bristol that was very positive. That got me intrigued.”

Sport as a metaphor for life is hardly an original idea. The application of that concept is as old as organised sport itself, leadership learnt on the playing fields of Eton, and all that. At the other end of the social spectrum the role boxing has played in allowing those less fortunate to make something of themselves has passed into myth. The School of Hard Knocks charity has hardened an idea into a cultural phenomenon by giving blokes like Mike not only visibility but a progression, a way of seeing and doing that both benefits them and those around them, the essence of social inclusion.

“The programme, the people I met, the whole experience was such an empowering thing, in terms of confidence building. One of my traits in life if I failed at anything was to bury my head and give up, to hell with it. There were no guarantees that anything was going to happen at the end of it. It didn’t say you will get a job, but for those 12 weeks, twice a week it gave me the skills and confidence to engage with the world. It might not always go your way but that doesn’t mean you give up. They gave me the fundamental principles that you need to get on in life, to take responsibility.”

Next up we see Greenwood and partner-in-redemption Scott Quinnell working the Glasgow beat. I intercepted the latter on holiday in Menorca last week so keen was he to speak on the matter. “We take it very seriously. When we started off it was more about the rugby side for me and Will. But over the years it has flipped totally. The rugby is still an integral part of what we do but now it is more about the boys themselves, trying to give them key skills through rugby that they can take into work place and life. Rugby is the catalyst. If you have the desire, commitment, trust in yourself and others, you can get anywhere.”

The show has its own case studies, narratives like Mike’s, like Aaron Love’s, like Lewis Skidmore’s, kids from a grim netherworld that we don’t see. The show said good morning to them, asked them how they were, what it might do for them, convinced them they were of value. It was then for them to take the ball and run with it, to build a new reality when the TV cameras had gone. Good luck lads.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy