This story has been adapted from the original which was published on thefa.com website and we’d like to thank Pete Bell for giving us his permission to use it.
I’d just come out of Lincoln prison after serving three-months of a six-month sentence. I was 26 years old and had always been trouble free, but I’d got into a relationship which had spiralled out of control – central to that was a custody battle. I was drinking heavily, got into crime, and my son had died during this time. My world had ended and after my release, I was unemployed.
I can still remember the turning point now. After seeing an advert at the Jobcentre, I enrolled on a training programme with Notts County’s ‘Football in the Community’ scheme and after spending six months doing my FA Preliminary Coaching Course, I knew it was exactly what I wanted; I’d found what I should be doing.
I stopped drinking, was crime-free and embraced education and here I am 22 years later with 18 qualifications, significant work experience and having travelled extensively as part of my work. I didn’t start coaching until I was 29, so I had to play catch-up but I’d say that was the age when I first really discovered education and how it could change lives for the better.
I’ve now been an FA coach mentor, working across Leicestershire and Derbyshire with various grassroots coaches and clubs, for the last four years after spending the previous 14 years as a coach, educator and delivering FA Level One qualifications. I’ve also worked in further education and recently, university football.
Earlier this year, I visited HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton to do a bespoke coaching course for inmates to give them a flavour of what it means to be a coach.
I’ve always felt that football clubs have never done enough in prisons, and I wanted to do some more work in that area. With my background, it was brilliant for me to be able to spend one day a week at HMP Oakwood for seven weeks, working with 16 guys. The first thing I said to them was:
I was once sat where you are”
I felt proud to be able to say that, given how far I’ve come in the years since I was released. That got them onside straight away and I went on to work with the guys discussing the role of coach, the qualifications and opportunities that are on offer on the outside.
I have just set up a project called ‘Step Out, Stay Out’ and with the support of the Ministry of Justice and my local MP, I’d like to deliver coaching and training in more prisons. It’s a massive passion of mine to change the stigma around people who have made mistakes and perhaps haven’t had the support when they come out of prison and end up in that vicious circle of re-offending.
Through mentoring and football education, I believe we can help people to get the same sort of opportunities that I was offered to make a positive impact on the lives of others in the same situation and also improve the number and standard of coaching across England.
I’m very open to hear from any individuals or groups who may be able to enhance my passion to help make a difference. Thank you to all who have helped me, it’s been tough and is still tough but I’m not deterred.
By Pete Bell – FA Coach Mentor
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- Information – We have practical self-help information on leaving prison and looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering
- Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to looking for employment.