Euro 2020 final is not the only big football show in London this Sunday


While the continent’s gaze will be firmly fixated on Wembley come Sunday night, earlier in the day a dozen miles east at Hackney Marshes there will be a football tournament taking place that may lack the glamour of Euro 2020’s showpiece but carries real significance for a couple of hundred young Londoners.

The 32 Borough Cup, organised by Hackney Wick FC founder Bobby Kasanga, will welcome under-18 teams from every pocket of greater London to the Marshes. The quality will be high, with boroughs represented by semi-pros and a smattering of players in professional academies, but it represents far more than a game of ball.

It is about bringing young men from all over the capital together to realise that, really, they have more in common than they think in a city so grimly fractured by postcode rivalries, gang wars and crime.

For Kasanga, whose back story of emerging from jail with a determination to create opportunities for disadvantaged inner city youth is well told now via his eye-opening YouTube channel among other outlets, the initial driver was to bring youngsters together and show how things can be done differently.


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The idea stemmed from him organising a game to raise awareness against knife crime in 2018 involving musicians, social media influencers and local celebrities. “That was a good event but off the back of that it hit me that it was just a star-studded thing really,” he tells football.london. “How do I get the kids involved, make them a part of it? I thought, ‘The World Cup has 32 teams, London has 32 boroughs, let’s try and do this.’”

So in 2019 Kasanga put the call out on social media for teams to come forward. “The first year I winged it a bit to be honest,” he said of the preparations, but it gained a lot of traction and was hailed as an overwhelming success in spite of numerous concerns beforehand.

“People were talking about [players] turning up with knives and all of that,” he says. “Some big organisations pulled out right before. The London FA were helping us but pulled out at the last minute. Other sponsors did the same because they weren’t aligned with what we were doing. That left us with extra costs, which was a headache at the time as well.

“On the day there were volunteers who let us down but we made it happen and it was such a success to have all the youth there. We decided in 2020 we’d make it much bigger. We had big plans but obviously Covid hit so that put it down.”

The pandemic has complicated the planning for this weekend as the government’s decision to delay the supposed Freedom Day briefly threatened the tournament being cancelled again.

One team from a west London suburb withdrew last week, citing the pandemic, and a replacement needed to be found while the borough of Bexley will be represented by a team comprised of players based out of Shepherd’s Bush.

That the teams will be unable to use the changing rooms at Hackney Marshes is frustrating but once everyone turns up and performs it is a minor inconvenience.

In stark contrast to 2019 there has been a helping hand from some big organisations, with Nike and BT Sport providing the kits for all 32 teams, while the police, army and corporations such as Barclays and Harrods had no hesitation in agreeing to host workshops between matches.

Teams have been drawn into eight groups with the top two progressing to the “Champions League” and bottom two into the “Europa League”, meaning everyone gets to play at least four 20-minute games.

During the group stage there will be ten matches at one time and the dozen teams not in action will be taken to the workshops on a strict rota. “We’ve sort of made that mandatory,” Kasanga says, “because the kids are there for the tournament.”

The Met were immediately receptive to the idea because it offers them an opportunity to speak to and hear from people who often consider them an enemy. It could even act as a recruitment drive.

“They love it because it’s a chance to engage with young people who are normally against them, don’t really understand them,” Kasanga adds. “It’s not to just have a conversation but maybe recruitment. A young man might not be comfortable to go up to them right now and say ‘I want to join the police force.’ But to have that presence, to see them there, maybe a couple of weeks later they’ll think ‘I was too embarrassed to come to you in front of my peers but it’s something I want to look into.’”





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