A youth worker has been fighting to ensure young people in South London have access to free football after he noticed a lack of community football spaces in some of the most deprived areas.
Mr Connolly said: “When I was growing up, everyone in the area went down to a pitch in Catford—Catford Pitz—to play football for free.
“It was bought by St. Dunstan’s private school in 2011, so kids can’t play there anymore.
“There just aren’t enough football pitches and sports venues open to the community anymore.”
Mr Connolly, trained in sports development and youth work, explained that free football sessions offer young men a much-needed safe space to be outside with their friends.
He said: “The streets aren’t a safe space for young men to hang around, and many young people don’t have a place to go.
“Especially in the north of Lewisham, there aren’t many green spaces, many tower blocks with no gardens, and teenagers share bedrooms with siblings.”
In 2016, Mr Connolly founded SF4A after he noticed an unused astroturf near his gym in Downham, Lewisham, and applied for council funding.
He started delivering two weekly football sessions at Bellingham Green and Downham Leisure Centre, funded through Lewisham Assembly Funding.
But Mr Connolly faced many challenges. Since 2016, SF4A has been forced out of locations due to venues hiking their prices or pitches being privatised by universities and private schools.
He said: “Goldsmiths University has every hour of community usage at Deptford Green Secondary School’s pitch, so we couldn’t hire the venue.
“We had to give up the Downham pitch in 2018 because it got too expensive and moved to Bromley Youth Club instead.
“We used the outdoor pitch over summer there, but when we tried to move back inside the hall, we had been hired out by a spin class – so we were pushed out of there too.”
By 2019, his council funding had run out. He said: “I decided to start from scratch. I registered as a charity, and we got the funding.”
In April 2021, Mr Connolly made SF4A his full-time job – setting up three weekly and weekend sessions across South London.
Mr Connolly said: “It makes me proud – I feel like I’m filling a void in the community.
“When these kids come to play, at first, they’re not too bothered about the staff, but after a few months, you build trust and relationships.
“Many young men who come to us have no positive male role models – they might not have adults that give them positive praise.”
“All our coaches are local people – they were these young boys 10 years ago, so it sets a positive example.”
SF4A will run Christmas sessions at Downham Leisure Centre, in Moorside Road, Lewisham, on December 22, 27, 28 and 29.