Canning Town man sets up football team to steer youngsters away from crime
PUBLISHED: 15:00 12 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:28 13 December 2019
An ex-gang member has launched a football club to encourage young people to take up sport instead of getting lured into crime.
Former child refugee Jonathan Lofulo from Canning Town, was keen to provide young people with opportunities he was denied as a teenager so he set up Newham Panthers.
So far the team has attracted about 40 youngsters aged seven to 14.
Jonathan said: "We are open to all young people who want to take up football, both boys and girls and including people with disabilities.
"We want to encourage youngsters to take up football as an alternative to playing on the streets and getting mixed up in gangs."
The club, which the 31-year old runs with business partner Zia Ahmed, trains at East Ham Central Park, playing home matches at West Ham Park in Forest Gate.
Jonathan was spotted as a football standout after moving to east London as a child refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At the age of 14 while at Rokeby School, he was scouted to play for West Ham Academy and Arsenal.
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However, Jonathan admitted he got into bad company, being drawn into a gang and taking drugs.
Jonathan said: "My life went downhill and I ended up in prison for burglary. It was a terrible experience and I would not wish it on anyone."
While behind bars, he had a "eureka" moment, realising he needed to change and do better for his family.
Jonathan served half his three-year sentence, going on to do an education studies degree at the University of East London (UEL).
Now working as a field manager, he started the club partly to give youngsters the opportunities he himself had lost.
Jonathan said: "My idea was to form a club and at the same time help tackle knife crime by giving young people something to do.
"Football is a very inclusive sport and a great way to keep young people focused. While this is a football club, it is more like a platform where young people can express themselves."
The oldest of Jonathan's three sons, 10-year old Junior, also plays with the club.
Visit newhampanthersfc.com for more.