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.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom
football

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past