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UEL alumnus starts inclusive football club for Newham young people

UEL  Tennis Hero

Club encourages young people to take up sport and avoid being lured into crime

A football club that encourages young people to take up sport and avoid being lured into crime has been launched in Newham by a University of East London alumnus.

Jonathan Lofulo, who graduated this year with a master’s degree in international refugee law and also earned a first-class bachelor’s degree in education studies in 2016, was keen to give back to his local community and provide young people with opportunities he had been denied as a teenager due to bad choices.

Jonathan’s club, Newham Panthers, strives for inclusivity, and includes young people aged 7-14 from all walks of life.

Jonathan said, “We are open to all young people who want to take up football, both boys and girls and including people with disabilities. We want to encourage youngsters in the area to take up football as a hobby – and as an alternative to playing on the streets and getting mixed up in gangs.”

The club, which Jonathan runs with business partner Zia Ahmed, who is also a University of East London alumnus, trains at East Ham Central Park and plays home matches at West Ham Park in Forest Gate. The club also offers training for football coaches.

Jonathan said, “We already have around 40 young members who train and play matches regularly at weekends and we hope to form at least two teams for girls within the club.”

A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who moved to east London as a young child, Jonathan was a football standout. At the age of 14, while attending Newham’s Rokeby School, he was scouted to play for West Ham Academy and Arsenal. However, Jonathan admitted he ‘got into bad company’ and became involved in a gang and in taking drugs.

Jonathan said, “My life went downhill and I ended up in prison for burglary. It was a terrible experience and I would not wish it on anyone.”

He had a ‘eureka’ moment while in prison, and realised he needed to transform himself and do better for his family.

Jonathan served half his three-year sentence and went on to do an education studies degree at the University of East London. Now working as a field manager for a local company, he said he chose to start the new club partly to give local youngsters the opportunities he himself had lost.

Jonathan said, “My idea was to form a new club and at the same time help to tackle knife crime by giving young people something to do.”

“Football is a very inclusive sport and a great way to keep young people focused on a sport and a hobby. While this is a football club, it is more like a platform where young people can express themselves. We are unique in being inclusive and our work has already shown that this is helping to prevent knife crime in the area by attracting young people to come and join us.

Jonathan, who lives in Canning Town with his wife and three children, noted that his oldest son, Junior, 10, plays with the club.

More information and how to join the Newham Panthers can be found at: www.newhampanthersfc.com.