In Toxteth, once one of Liverpool’s most troublesome areas, a generation of young footballers are transforming their community’s agenda, on and off the pitch with the help of a local legend.
Walk down Lodge Lane or Granby Street with Earl Jenkins and you’ll be stopped on every corner. “Yes Earl” say grinning Liverpudlians, young and old, a testament to the incredible effect that Earl, and the initiatives he supports, have had on the area. Bump into one of his past or current players and Earl will tell you how they’re the best goalkeeper, centre back, or striker, he has ever seen.
Earl has been at the heart of the Toxteth community for the last two decades. Chair of Kingsley United Liverpool’s most diverse grassroots football club, Learning Mentor at Calderstones School and youth worker at Unity Youth Centre and Granby Toxteth Youth Forum.
His football club is a shining example of how the game can empower kids at the heart of a community, enabling them to better their lives as part of the process.
This is why Earl’s story is so interesting, and important. It’s that it’s not his story at all.
Cornerstone Of The Community
Through Earl’s hard work a community has been forged, and an area that has suffered for decades has hope, and it all started with football, a sport that isn’t even Earl’s first love.
“Football wasn’t even really my thing” he laughs, “I was just doing this to support the kids. It all started when I was involved with Stanley House, a local club in the area that was founded by ex-Liverpool player Howard Gayle. A little later on, I was doing Granby Toxteth Youth Forum, and Tiber FC, which was the club’s name at the time, and I needed somewhere to train the kids indoors during winter. That’s how my involvement with Unity Youth Centre began.”
“There had been a gun incident there a few weeks previously, and they weren’t sure if they were going to carry on running the centre, but they told me that they were putting a board together, so I just said ‘OK, put me on the board.’ Once I was on theboard I ended up being the Chair of Unity as well.”
From here, Earl was on a career path that meant dedicating huge amounts of his time to supporting others in his community. Despite having a large family of his own, Earl has always managed to extend his sense of responsibility and duty of care to those around him. Although his career comes across as unintentional, Earl has always been the person to raise his hand when others weren’t prepared to.
More Than A Club
This was how Earl and Kingsley United, became so integral to football and youth culture in Toxteth. Earl is a proud Scouser, and has the never-say-die spirit that you’d expect. No isn’t good enough. Never isn’t an option.
Earl has managed to build a bond, and a mutual respect between himself and young people in Liverpool 8. “The club is like my family” explains Aws Furghani, who Earl has known since he was seven years old. “Everyone is made to feel important, and that’s what I really like about it. Kingsley has taught me to be self dependent, and also to be ready to help others.”
Aws embodies Kingsley, and Toxteth’s diverse and progressive attitude. Someone who came as an outsider in 2012, arriving with his family from Libya, he found a football club and a new home.
Setting these young people up for success in life is proving more valuable as time goes on. Earl and his team are providing kids with invisible life lessons that they’re not receiving elsewhere and through this rewarding work the community is being transformed for the better.
“We use football to engage with young people. They want to come back not because they’re being told to but because they want to be involved. We set standards and ultimately keep them away from less advantageous situations like petty crime.”
The club has produced several good players, but they’ve also produced teachers, doctors, and architects, and that’s testament to Earl’s efforts at keeping these young people in line and on the right track.
“Clubs like ours, and youth centres like Unity, and other great teams and initiatives in the area, have improved life in this area. But now it’s up to the next generation to be the voices for this area.”
“These kids are so intelligent, so engaged, so brilliant, they’d run rings around me at that age... I really do think this generation is up to the challenge. Don’t ask them to arrive early and help put the goals up though. They can’t seem to do that.”
At the end of the day all Earl is doing is encouraging young people to play football. But it’s much bigger than that. He’s using sport to channel young, boisterous energy and provide lessons in time management, taking responsibility for yourself and your community and respecting your teammates.
The simple principles of sportsmanship are keeping the young people of Toxteth grounded and their futures bright.