It’s sometime easier to think about tragedy and wars in countries far away– much harder to think about the war on the next-door street. But for many Londoners these days, every radio news bulletin brings an ache in the gut and the question: is that my son they are talking about?
A week ago, I got a call early in the morning from my friend David Marriott, co-founder and lead coach of a major club in south London the Lambeth Tigers, at which I help out a bit. He told me the night before, he was coaching kids mostly eight years old, but with siblings as young as three watching the session. This was at a youth club in Brixton, the Marcus Lipton. He described how a young man was chased into the club and stabbed to death, right by where the children were training. David and two parents of the kids got directly involved trying to save the young man’s life – unfortunately unsuccessful.
The coaches, parents and children were terribly traumatised. It’s been heart-breaking to hear how kids have reacted. To hear how eight-year-old boys are asking their mums: “When I grow old will I get stabbed?”. That should not be the worry of anyone from any community growing up in London
No-one should be afraid of growing up.
We wondered who to turn to, and after all the stabbings that have occurred in London, we expected a slick response.
We spent all day trying to get a number for some counsellor, some psychologist who the parents and the coaches could speak to. We called it in as an emergency to Lambeth social services. The Tigers did get immediate help from the London Football Association and are grateful for that. But at the end of the day (Friday night) all we could offer parents was numbers for helplines like Victim Support. That isn’t a good enough – they wanted some real person to speak to.
After 5pm on Friday night everyone stopped even answering emails, by Sunday night, David was angered: “Not a single person from any authority has even called just to ask how the kids were doing.”
One of the mums, Sarah, said: “We felt completely abandoned. We feel like living victims.”
(You can hear more from Sarah in this BBC interview: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0002yl7 – go to 1.35.45 and it starts there )
The club, co-founded by David and Jamahl Jarrett, works in some of the toughest places in London and it has been very successful. Two thirds of their 200+ signed players live in neighbourhoods ranked in the top 20% for crime in Britain. The club makes a difference in many people’s lives. We wrote a letter to Sadiq Khan and Lambeth Council. The letter said: “Regardless of where children and young people live, we believe they have a right to a safe place to play and take part in sport.”
As David put it, “Whatever is happening on the street, these things can’t happen in front of my eight year olds”
David has seen a lot. His own brother was murdered in a gun crime in 2008, which motivated him and Jamahl to found the club. In 2012, a 15-year-old Lambeth Tiger player was murdered, the innocent victim of a stabbing, that took place right oppose the same Brixton youth club, the Marcus Lipton
When David returned to the crime scene on Thursday, flowers were still left over from that 2012 tragedy, still attached to the railing right opposite.
After David and Jamahl sent the letter, Lambeth organised some counselling, and Sadiq Khan’s people got in touch. It seems authorities are getting a response together. The club will meet with them next week to work out what next. But parents still don’t think it’s enough.
This is more than a small football club should have to deal with alone – and the teenagers and youth workers who were there too at the Youth Centre need massive support and help.
The Tigers tried not to make too much publicity because they didn’t want to impact on kids at the club. They don’t want anyone to fear sport – to associate sport with danger.
But everyone does feel there are some important things to say, lessons to learn – and these kids still need plenty more help.
Lambeth Tigers also learned who our friends are. Telling people about a stabbing makes most people so shocked, they can’t wait to put down the phone. And they find excuses not to help.
We also learned we have massive friends at Nike – who showed us that being a ‘partner club’ was not just a slogan.
Going forward, the football club’s going to work hard not only to these support parents and kids but to find and support efforts for safe sports facilities for kids in south London for all.
If you want to help you can get in touch with Lambeth Tigers: firstname.lastname@example.org – or pledge something to the fundraising page of the club’s registered charity, the Lambeth Tigers Foundation: https://www.givey.com/lambethtigers