'West Ham United coaches believed in me'

1 May 2018
Junior Rene, West Ham participant in PL Kicks Cup

Despite facing challenging problems growing up in east London, Junior Rene is on the right path to becoming a footballer thanks to West Ham and PL Kicks

For Junior Rene there are difficulties to overcome both at home and outside his front door in east London.

"There's a lot of things going on in the area that aren't good," the 16-year-old from Plaistow says.

"My mum passed away when I was younger, so I live with my dad and sister. That's a challenge because I don't have a mum. School didn't go right for me at the start."

Junior was signed by Crystal Palace but suffered disappointment when he was released.

Through all of this he has attended the Premier League Kicks programme, which the West Ham United Foundation regularly runs, holding sessions for more than 100 young people.

There he has met George, a coach who understands the adversity facing youngsters in the community.

Junior on his PL Kicks journey

"You've got poverty, postcode wars, anti-social behaviour, petty crime, joy-riding," says George.

"Recently you've been hearing in the news about the amount of stabbings or gun attacks.

"I've also been informed that one or two participants, that we're aware of, are getting involved in the wrong crowds.

"So we look at how we can try to steer them towards staying involved in football, and engage with them in constructive activities."

The PL Kicks sessions have given Junior an opportunity to focus on his passion for the game, and his dream of becoming a professional.

"On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays it helps if you go there, play football, have fun and learn different things," he says.

"The coaches have pushed me. When I've been down they've said 'Junior, you can do it'. They've believed in me.

"I think life would be hard without it. I wouldn't be doing good things. I'd be playing football but not as well as with the coaching at Kicks. I don't think I'd be in a good place right now.

"I've changed in a positive way, from hanging around with bad people to now doing good things, trying to look for a club to get signed. I'm fixed up and I'm on a path of achieving.

"PL Kicks means the world. If I get signed, I'll come back and just thank everyone."

'PL Kicks is needed more than ever'

Junior was given an opportunity to showcase his ability at last month's Premier League Kicks Cup, as 87 teams from England and Wales took part in a day of competition and workshops in Manchester.

He captained West Ham United to glory in the mixed tournament, scoring one goal and setting up another in the final, and being named Player of the Tournament.

"It's a great experience, scoring in front of people, with different people saying good things about me," he says. "It's positive. To get the award, I'm over the moon.

"When I go home I think my dad's going to give me a big kiss. My family's going to be happy when I show them the trophy and tell them the team's won."

George knows how important these successes can be for some of his players.

"Just knowing them from a young age, I know what they've experienced," he says. "They've been let down. They've been in trouble. They've been kicked out of school.

"But this just shows you can achieve things if you work hard and keep your concentration and focus.

"The Kicks tournament has given them a positive story they'll always remember for the rest of their lives."

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