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Ex-pro Lawrence back at school

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Your Game meets Jamie Lawrence

By Alistair Magowan

Not more than 12 miles from the David Beckham Academy in east London is a soccer school of a different kind.

While Beckham's facility in Greenwich can boast being the largest in Europe, the set-up at the Nightingale School in Tooting is altogether more threadbare.

Four temporary goals adorn a patch of grass that is home to the Jamie Lawrence Football Academy and its existence owes much to the former Bradford star's past.

Lawrence, who earned 42 caps playing for Jamaica and played for eight clubs in the four English divisions, spent two periods in prison but it was while inside that a prison officer spotted his ability and showed him the path to become a professional.

Now, the 38-year-old is offering similar guidance to a blend of expelled pupils, semi-professionals on the cusp of making it and, on occasions, players such as Crystal Palace's Clinton Morrison.

And the venture has also aided a turnaround in the Nightingale school's fortunes after years of decline.

Jamie Lawrence and Nightingale School pupil Jameo
I respect Jamie more than teachers because he is on a level with us

Nightingale School pupil Jameo (right)

"I wanted to give something back to grassroots football," Lawrence said.

"If I wasn't in prison and the screws seeing me, I wouldn't be where I am today because there wasn't anyone else looking out for me.

"Some of these kids nowadays, all they want is someone to be around for them and show them the right direction to go in."

After initially playing for Cowes Sports on the Isle of Wight in 1992, Lawrence signed for Sunderland (coincidently running out to Jailhouse Rock on his debut) to begin his professional career and made most appearances for Bradford, who he played for in the Premier League.

His remarkable story led to his autobiography, From Prison to Premiership, being published in 2006 and he is now writing the next chapter training the unique mix of players who hail from the local community.

Many of the pupils who attend the Nightingale school have emotional or behavioural difficulties and it was after seeing Lawrence's Academy in a newspaper eight months ago that head teacher Richard Gadd got in touch.

"This was a school which, for many years, was on its knees, it really struggled," said Gadd.

"It was very different to this, a lot of the kids were in control, they weren't turning up, there was lots of bullying and violence. But now we've turned that around and bringing people in like Jamie proves how far we've come."

Although his experience as a professional has enhanced the school's status and improved the facilities which were described as "a jungle", it is Lawrence's background which has improved discipline amongst the pupils.

"I've got little rules in the session like they're not allowed to swear," said Lawrence. "It sounds silly but they have to do press-ups if they do.

"That's a discipline in itself and a lot of the teachers can't do that. Because I've been there on the other side of it, the pupils respect me even more.

"I've seen a lot of the players' (behaviour) change, even the Headmaster said to me: "I don't know how you do it." When I first went down there for a talk he said: "You'll never get them doing press-ups." A week later I did and he couldn't believe it."

In-between carting a weighted sledge up and down the field, Jameo, one of the pupils at the school, likens Lawrence's role to that of a big brother.

"The training is hard but Jamie helps us through it. Anything we do, he does with us," he said.

Jamie Lawrence made his name at Bradford
A lot of ex-professional footballers, especially the ones from the inner cities, should be going back to their areas and teaching these kids about life

Jamie Lawrence

"Other people will tell you to do things but Jamie helps us and encourages you through it.

"I respect him more than teachers because he is on a level with us. He's like us because he's been through similar stuff when he was younger."

Lawrence is well aware of the danger of boredom on the streets near to where he grew up. But he also recognises how football and footballers could do more to help.

"Football is a way of getting their attention and from there you can share your life with them," he said.

"Football is a key, but it's not just football, there's music or whatever but they need something to channel their energy into.

"A lot of ex-professional footballers, especially the ones from the inner cities, should be going back to their areas and teaching these kids about life. The little words they say to these kids mean a million dollars."

It might not have two indoor pitches or the flashy kit that players receive when they join the Beckham Academy.

But with the likes of Wigan's Emile Heskey and Portsmouth's Sean Davis set to help out in the summer, the Jamie Lawrence version may yet prove to be a bigger hit where it is needed most.

Your Game is a partnership between the BBC and the Football Foundation which offers young people, aged 16 to 25, from under-served communities the chance to get involved in football, music and the media.


see also
Your Game London events postponed
10 Mar 08 |  Your Game
Your Game unveiled in Banksy lair
29 Feb 08 |  Your Game
Your Game is back in 2008
09 Nov 07 |  Your Game


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