Monday 20 January 2014
Howard Webb is normally seen on pitch officiating a Barclays Premier League match or an international fixture, but for the last nine months, the 42-year-old has been combining his referee work with helping to lead a community football project across South Yorkshire.
Webb, who last week was named on the official list of referees for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, has been working on the SportFX South Yorkshire initiative since last April when he returned to the police force after a five-year career break, during which his matches included the FIFA World Cup final in 2010.
The police sergeant uses his refereeing experience in the SportFX programme, which engages boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 19 in free football coaching sessions. The project works in partnership with the Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and local schools to tackle anti-social behaviour by engaging youngsters who could otherwise be on the streets.
Howard spends most of his time promoting the initiative, attending meetings with school head teachers to request the use of facilities, promoting new sessions, providing motivational speeches at assemblies and visiting some of the sessions for a kickabout and Q&A sessions.
"I am very lucky that I get to spend my time in my local community"
"I work for 10 hours per week predominantly on crime prevention and community engagement," Howard said.
"The Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA funding became available and it seemed logical to bring together my contacts within my refereeing work and my police work. The reduced hours allow for me to continue with my work for the Premier League."
Six sessions run across South Yorkshire - at Horizon Community College, Barnsley; Sheffield Hallam University Sports Park, Tinsley; Fir Vale School, Sheffield; Firth Park Academy, Sheffield; Dinnington Comprehensive, Rotherham and Sheffield Park Academy - with 400 youngsters taking part on a weekly basis.
It is hoped that the figure can rise to 1,000 throughout this year. One of the sessions, at Fir Vale, attracts up 130 Roma-Slovak youngsters who come to the 3G facility and engage with South Yorkshire Police’s Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), community workers and volunteers who all give their time to provide coaching.
Howard has also worked with the Sport FX project in Barnsley, which was set up in partnership with Barnsley FC and South Yorkshire Police and runs across two schools in the town. He recently attended Dearne Advanced Learning Centre to speak at an assembly, where he talked to the students about the importance of ambition and hard work.
"I am very lucky that I get to spend my time in my local community and that both South Yorkshire Police and PGMOL [Professional Game Match Officials Limited] are encouraging me to work on this initiative," he said. "Feedback from the schools is excellent, with reports of better behaviour from the kids already. Many of the youngsters involved look forward all week to the sessions and are concerned that their actions will result in them being removed from the project.
"The PCSOs and volunteers working on the project are engaging with hundreds of young people on a weekly basis in a positive way, bridging the gap between the police and the local community. The officers are on first-name terms with all of the kids and are getting to know them at a young age so that they can encourage them away from a life involving crime.
"We have plans in place to take the project out to other schools in South Yorkshire throughout the year. If it was not for the goodwill of everyone involved and the schools providing the facilities, we could not be as successful on such a tight budget."