Ledley King heads back to his primary school in Mile End, London

‘I was just the same as they are, with the same dreams’

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The Independent Online

Former England footballer Ledley King yesterday visited his east London primary school as part of the Back to School campaign being organised by i in conjunction with Future First, telling pupils: “I learned my skills here, playing in the playground.”

“It’s important for me to let them know that I grew up just the same as them. I was there one day, the same as they are, with the same dreams and aspirations,” said the 33-year-old ex-Tottenham defender who made 21 international appearances for England.

King, who has now retired and regularly works with his club’s charity foundation to support education initiatives in the local area, spent the morning fielding questions at Olga Primary School in Mile End, London.

Stressing the importance of self-belief, he said, “I think it’s important for kids to see that someone with familiarity – someone who has been in their school and lived in their shoes – has gone on to do something successful.

“When I was younger it was someone from my area who made me realise I could do it. It showed me the importance of coming back to school and showing the kids they can achieve anything they want to with hard work.” He also gave pupils insight into his own youth, revealing that his favourite team was Millwall, he took cello lessons, and he was only allowed out to play football when he had finished his homework.

The Back to School campaign aims to encourage state school alumni to get involved in their alma maters and to help to build networks for school leavers. With a difficult job market, career advice is more important than ever, yet access to it outside of private schools is often lacking.

Sarah Kennedy, 28, a teacher at Olga Primary School, said that the initiative was welcome in an area with a difficult reputation. “Ledley shows that people from around here can do well. And it shows the children the value of hard work: they see footballers and celebrities and think they have instant success and fame. The fact that he comes from the area and the same school and background as all of them is very inspiring.”

One of the school’s pupils, Saddiqa – who wants to be a lawyer when she grows up – said: “I think Ledley King has helped inspire us to be what we want to be when we grow up.”

“Often I’ve worked with kids and they’re star struck and in awe and I try to tell them ‘I was just like you as a kid, it was exactly the same for me,’” King said. “It’s important for me to make them realise, quite simply, that they can be a success for themselves.”

Report by Oscar Quine