More than a game

Wolves hero named Community Captain for improving lives of young people

25 Feb 2024

New Park Village Football Development founder Joe Jackson recognised as part of More than a game campaign

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When former Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Zeli Ismail was struggling to adapt after moving from full to part-time football, there was one person he knew he could call for advice - his former coach Joe Jackson.

Joe is the Founder/CEO of New Park Village Football Development (NPVFD), a community-based programme in the north of Wolverhampton which he set up with his wife in 1998, initially as a response to gang violence in the local area, using football to engage young people and their families.

Zeli was the first of many programme attendees to be signed by Wolves' academy, yet it is his incredible bond with Joe that led to him reaching out some 22 years later for help.

He is only one, however, of the many young people Joe has encouraged, inspired and assisted over the years.

It is also why, as part of the Premier League's “More than a game” campaign, Joe has been named Wolves' Community Captain for his magnificent work in the local community.

"New Park Village is a typical inner city area; high unemployment, poor housing, but it's a good community," said Joe, who received a special pennant and captain's armband in a surprise presentation by Wolves' head coach Gary O'Neil.

Gary O'Neil, Joe Jackson, Wolves
Joe Jackson, Wolves

"There was a time when there were young men that were involved in gangs. That's really where my football programme started from.

"I was kept out of the prison system because of football. Football was a mechanism that allowed me to become somebody and all I'm doing is just transferring that back into the community because it worked for me.

"When some people say that things can't be mended, that is music to my ears. I use the game to demonstrate how you can build communities."

Zeli, now a coach at NVPFD, praised the influence that Wolves' newly-crowned Community Champion has had on his development both as a player and a young man. 

"New Park Village are a great advocate for keeping kids off the streets really, and giving them a chance. I'm really grateful what it did for me," said Zeli.

"Even when I came out of full-time football I was struggling with what do I do? I rang Joe and he said come and see what it is that they're doing on a Saturday, and if I like it, come and be a part of it again.

"It's been 22 years, and I'm coming back and asking him for help and he has, again, provided it."

Joe Jackson

The NVPFD programme has grown to include coach education, the Learning Through Football programme, and grassroots teams – engaging with hundreds of young people every week.

And Joe, who made one appearance for Wolves in 1984 before a successful non-league career, has every intention of continuing to help the community.

"My motivation is genuine, I want to see you have a better life," he added. "I know what you've got inside you, you can't see it, but I can see it. So as far as I'm concerned, it's my job to pull it out.

"I do it because I don't want to see people's kids behind bars. I feel it's like my mission. I do it because it needs to be done."

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