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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 October 2007, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Living the football dream

By Olga Mirzoian
BBC Blast Sport reporter

Awa and Gareth Cooks at the west London Your Game event
Awa is presented an award from BBC reporter Garth Crooks

"All I want to do is play - I don't want to do a 9-5 job; it doesn't suit everyone!"

So says football-mad 16-year-old Awa, who was raised in the north London suburb of Tottenham.

And she has serious talent - but it took a ground-breaking football tournament for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to unlock her potential.

It's thanks to Your Game that Awa is now training with Tottenham Hotspurs' ladies team. And she even has hopes of one day becoming the first ever Somali-born professional female footballer.

Like most people in her area in north London, Awa started playing football on the streets but found it was very easy to get distracted.

Your Game is a unique nationwide street football and music festival across England
It is a partnership between the BBC and the Football Foundation, with support from Barclays Spaces for Sports
It is designed to provide new opportunities for young people from socially disadvantaged groups in society
The 2007 tournament had 10 regional competitions with 2,400 players competing
150 participants have enrolled on FA coaching and refereeing courses

"Most of the time I spent my life on the streets and started smoking and getting into the wrong side," she said. "Football dragged me back and kept me off the street.

"There was nothing we could do when we were younger, (we could) get anti-social behaviour for playing football! I don't think there was any help from the council or anyone."

It was her exploits for Real Impact FC at the west London Your Game event when things really began to happen for Awa, helping her team to the national finals of the tournament in Manchester.

"It (Your Game) has changed me a lot because all I ever did is be on the street doing this and that, I nearly got kicked out of school," she said.

She is currently studying sports science at Tottenham College, but Awa insisted her studies are "a back up plan in case I get injured, it's something to fall back on".

Olga Mirzoian

Another who has seen the benefit of bringing the best out of people through football is Steven Marshall, a 20-year-old coach from Islington.

If he was not coaching, Steven believes he would be working in an office which he wouldn't like.

Luckily for him, he has been given a chance to use his favourite sport as a way of helping and getting through to young people.

"I'm a practical person and I can help other people play football," he said.

"I have younger brothers and sisters myself and they're influenced by all this stuff happening on the streets, so I want to get them into sports and help inspire them."

While giving young people something productive to do is instrumental in keeping them out of trouble, it is not always that easy.

Asked if organisations should be doing more Steven said: "I think it's about determination - it's up to them (the children) if they want to choose, you can't push kids too much into doing something.

"People who are here are not just getting something out of the tournament but going on to use this experience as an entry point to training and potentially work in sport and the community in the future."
Baroness Anne Taylor, Trustee of the Football Foundation

"But if the opportunities for them to do sport are there at least they can make a decision themselves."

Marshall took his FA Level 1 coaching qualification through Access to Sport, a non-profit organisation which promoting sporting opportunities for young people in hard-to-reach areas.

"Access to Sports are providing sport in areas where you wouldn't expect," he said.

"Most people wouldn't want to go onto certain estates and provide different activities and residential trips for people because obviously stuff happens.

"At least they are willing and trying to give the kids in certain areas support and encouragement they need.

"You see on the news everyday these kids getting shot from young ages, obviously if you can avoid that by making them taking part in sport, I'm all up for that.

"I just want youngsters to enjoy it."

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