Kids today eh? Give 'em a chance
A MONTH or two back, a representative of a youth sports trust in East London asked me if I might help them to get the West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce, whom I had got to know down my years as a football writer, to present some awards.
I thought Sam might agree, having spoken to him a while back about the state of football in England, which provoked him into a lament for the demise of school sport. He passionately believed that kids needed it, and much more of it, having enjoyed a structured sporting youth himself. Schools needed help and more funding, he insisted.
When contacted, he duly agreed to be a guest at the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation dinner.
"This is amazing," he said to me on the night as we stood next to a banner showing what the THYSF were all about. "I didn't realise there was such a diversity of sport in the inner city."
Indeed, the awards took in pretty much everything from badminton through basketball to boxing, from watersports (more surprisingly, including sailing) to weightlifting.
There was diversity of another sort too. Being Tower Hamlets, naturally every sort of background was represented, from Asian to Oriental, Anglo Saxon and Afro-Caribbean. And inclusivity too. There were as many awards for teenage girls as boys. Para sports performers were honoured too.
This was a joyous occasion, with all cheering each other, all pulling for each other irrespective of creed and colour. Never have I been to an awards dinner, either - at the Regent's Lake centre in Bow Wharf, Mile End - that served curry. Delicious it was too.
It was all very enjoyable but more important, uplifting. A celebration of human spirit and potential. Here were young people devoting themselves to their sports, with a sense of achievement and self-esteem resulting from the benefits of discipline and fulfillment of ability.
Tower Hamlets being such a hotbed of sporting talent, you watched many of them receiving their awards, trying to note names, expecting to see them again in Olympic Games of the future, perhaps having been inspired by those on their doorstep at Stratford three years ago now.
The THYSF are a charitable organisation, receiving no local council money. They are fortunate to have sponsors and backers from nearby businesses and livery companies in the City of London for their outstanding work.
What they do proves what young people can achieve with all their various talents and resources. Provided, that is, they are given the opportunities to do so, enabled through the expertise of coaches and mentors, who also received due recognition with awards. All that, of course - all the time and facilities in which to blossom - needs funding.
This has been described as a lazy generation, devoted only to computers and phones and indoor sloth. An under-qualified generation that doesn't work hard. A generation that fails to engage with a society and culture it appears not to respect.
It was not in evidence on my night at the THYSF awards. Indeed, more generally, the evidence for anyone who comes into contact with young people is that they are just waiting to be empowered by an older generation probably more fortunate in the start it was given in life, if not always financially then socially.
We are less than a week away from a general election and I would not presume to tell people how to vote.
All I know is that I will be voting for the party and its politicians, as part of a plan for economic sanity, proper health care and enlightened education, who I judge will do most for young people over the next five years, not just when it comes to sport but in life beyond it.
The kids being encouraged by the THYSF are among the most fortunate ones, it has to be said. They have innate sporting ability and are getting help to develop, perhaps even some of them to the point where they can make a living at their chosen discipline.
They are living, though, in the poorest borough in the country. Almost one in two of their schoolmates are below the modern recognised poverty line. And that is just financially.
The danger is that there is, too, a poverty of ambition, with the message they are absorbing being that there will not be jobs or flats or houses for them when they leave their schools. Proper jobs, that is. Not just scandalous internships - unpaid or sometimes even that THEY pay for - or zero-hours contracts but with rights and dignity and decent pay.
How ironic it is for them, perhaps even enraging to some of them, that when they look to the West from Tower Hamlets they see the ornate institutions of the opulent City of London, that when they look South they see the moneyed skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.
Thus is my vote going to a party who will back organisations like the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation - financially and morally - and its like outside sport and into communities and their social fabric as well.
Politicians who will create jobs for these kids, implement measures to help them get into the currently iniquitous property market, being it renting or buying. Who will not waste the talents of young people but develop them and turn them from generation lost to generation reborn.