Calling Time on Ex-Footballers Turning To Crime

98% of 16-18 year old that sign scholarships are either released or dropped out of the game by the age of 21.

Set up by Michael Kinsella who hails from Liverpool, OnSIDE Academy is the United Kingdom’s first football based academy of its kind. It was established to assist released academy players, ex-footballers and disadvantaged young adults to receive adult education, along with the opportunity to return to the world of work. OnSIDE take a pragmatic approach, helping these young men reintegrate into society through apprenticeships courses such as plumbing, electricians and carpentry.

‘‘Onside is a training company in education, and supporting young people’s search for employment after falling into hard times when left behind by football. It’s based at Hope University in Liverpool. It has been running for one year, though in my head for six behind bars’’, said Michael. While OnSIDE began as solely based on helping ex-footballers it has recently began spreading its hand of help to the boxing community too. ‘‘We have boxing going in the city also giving young boxers apprenticeships and a course to get on.

Once a promising talent, Michael Kinsella, like thousands of other young men once dreamed of playing football for his beloved Everton. Sadly, things didn’t turn out like he had once dreamed. Michael’s career led him through the lower leagues and beyond to the semi-professional game for clubs such as Bury, Tranmere and Stranraer. ‘‘What I realised was that I had no real life skills to gain proper employment. I missed an opportunity to get an apprenticeship because that passes you by when you’re trying to get a career in football.

While Michael’s career faded away into obscurity like so many others before – and indeed after him, one thing remained: the need to survive. Lacking formal education finding employment served a thankless task, options were scarce. Nevertheless while Michael may have been lacking the certificates to find proper employment, he certainly knew about one way to make money – drugs. ‘‘I had to survive; I ended up turning to drugs because I knew people from that world growing up in a council estate.

Since Michael’s release from prison earlier this year his schedule has been hectic. Various partnerships have been set up with league clubs across the country, including Blackburn Rovers and even Premier League giants Liverpool. While OnSIDE is finally an established organisation with connections to many clubs its beginnings stem from humbling stories of broken dreams for many young men. ‘‘Seeing lads and families destroyed by the belief they were going to be a professional footballer and didn’t know what else to do in life, falling into crime, and then seeing my brother fail through injuries and depression”, Michael said with a brutal honesty.

Currently there are 135 ex-professional footballers in English prisons. A subject rarely covered in the media, football’s glamour tag disguises the game’s true colours hiding behind the fame in which we are all engrossed. The road to crime and prison is one well-travelled by Michael, in his relatively short life he’s found himself in prison all too often, by his own account. ‘‘I’ve done four prison sentences, one in Spain, one in Holland, and two small stints in England.

OnSIDE has been in the pipeline for some time, although Michael is only out of prison since the beginning of this year he has been working on the project while still in prison. ‘‘It (OnSIDE Academy) has been running for 1 year but in my head for 6 behind bars.

When a friend of mine first spoke to Michael in May as part of a radio documentary we were conducting, Michael said by September they planned to have 25 people signed up to OnSIDE Academy, though it seems things have since escalated quicker than expected. ‘‘There are 50 kids (signed up to OnSIDE) at present – also we currently have 5 full time staff. By year three we plan to have 10 sites set up across the country, because the issue is massive. The help provided by clubs is nominal, they might get them a sports course which considering the overcrowded industry is madness really.

Since Michael’s release from prison, the work with OnSIDE has been hectic: there have been interviews with various national newspapers and even a special feature for the BBC on the Saturday morning football show – Football Focus. Michael has been campaigning for football clubs to set up better ways to prevent so many young men fall through the net into a life of crime. ‘‘For now we’re doing our best to act as a safety net for these players.

OnSIDE has received much support recently, notably from now ex-Liverpool player and current Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher. Carragher, who grew up in Bootle, Liverpool, knows too well that many who don’t make it in football find themselves in a life of crime. ‘‘I was one of the fortunate ones. But the statistics will show you that it doesn’t always happen.’’ Carragher said it was hard for senior player to offer advice to youngsters about considering their options without hurting their feelings. ‘‘It’s difficult talking about that type of thing because you don’t want them to think that you think they’re not going to make it.”

Michael’s problems with crime after football are not alone to him, but a family issue too. Michael’s brother, Gerard, 21, started to go down the wrong path when he was released by Everton, though with the help of OnSIDE he is rebuilding his life at Fleetwood Town.

Based in Liverpool Hope University OnSIDE have received support from the Player Football Association (PFA). OnSIDE aims to help young ex-footballers re-enter education and/or employment while retaining their love the game.

Kevin Kelly

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