Updated: Nov 8, 2022
'We are in the changing life business' - Small Heath is one of the city's most deprived areas and these community football teams are providing a place of safety for young people.
Asha Rage Football Coach for Dream Chaser FC.
"Even the good ones have been stabbed. There are people out there just waiting for them. I don't want anything to happen to any of them."
With each sentence, Asha Rage holds back tears full with passion and determination.
For many, football is more than just a game. For some, as Asha knows, it is now the difference between life or death on the streets.
In Small Heath, one of Birmingham's most deprived areas, the beautiful game is a refuge for young people.
Football teams started by inspirational community members desperate to create things for the better, have become a lifeline.
Dream Chaser U18's pictured training at The Heartlands Academy.
DREAM CHASER FOOTBALL CLUB
In 2017 Asha Rage, then 40 years old, enrolled on a football coaching course at Aston Villa – but she wasn’t really there to be a football coach, having never played professionally before.
Since then she has created her own football team - Dream Chasers FC, which has progressed into a youth club of the same name. Operating every day of the week, Dream Chaser Youth Club provides everything from football training, to an event called Coffee with a Coppa' where families can sit and chat with local police officers.
There is also Street Watch walks throughout Small Heath as well as English lessons for migrant parents.
Asha Rage who had never played football professionally before and went out to get football coaching training so she could set up Dream Chaser FC.
"They used to think I was crazy"
"My journey to become a football coach wasn’t because I was passionate to become a football coach,” explains Asha. “It was for them to just have something to distract them for two hours.
“I faced a lot of negativity at the beginning as a Muslim woman playing football. I think some were scared that girls might follow in my footsteps. They didn’t take me seriously as a woman.
“To them I’m still this crazy woman having these children – but the parents that I’m working with for all those years, they are the ones who have motivated me the most.
“They have told me: ‘If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know what my boys would be doing’.
"I used to have this quote 'make them busy before they make you busy. They used to think I [was] crazy when I said that.
"I'm invested all the time. If I lost one of them, I have to call them and ask them where they are. I'm passionate about them, and I wish they knew that as well. I want what's the best for them. I feel like their future is bright, if they keep up like this.
'They know what they're preventing themselves from by coming here'
According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, the West Midlands saw 14 knife crimes a day in 2019.
The realities of young people being on the streets of Birmingham is a reality all too clear for Asha. Last year players at Dream Chasers lost their dear friend Sidali Mohammed, only 16, in a knife attack outside Joseph Chamberlain College.
"When Sidali died I came back home and I literally slept in my bedroom for three days. I didn't come out," Asha reveals.
"My son came to me and said: 'I hope nothing will happen to me because if you are crying like that for someone that isn't your son, imagine happens to me how are you going to act?'
"I am really passionate about the youth and I think that people do not understand them.
'Outside is not safe anymore'
Asha's compassion is worn on her sleeve. Even when children come to training without money she never turns them away.
"There's nothing to be sugarcoating. There's no point putting on blind folds with what's going on in Birmingham at the moment. We lost some of the boys by knife.
"We have boys in jails. They themselves know what they're preventing themselves from by coming here. Outside is not safe anymore. Even the innocent boy they're going to college attack in front of the college
"Even the good ones have been stabbed. There are people out there just waiting for them. I don't want anything to happen to any of them. I want them to grow up, enjoy themselves and live their happiest life."
Mohammed Jama, 16, is a player at Dream Chasers FC and the youth club. Known as Jama, he says "it's not all about football."
"There's a lot of things this club does for the community and I think it should keep going. The coaches, the people who run this club they are all good people. They've got good hearts," he said.
Mohamed Mohamoud, 32, coach, director and secretary has been involved with Dream Chasers for over a year now.
"It was one of the choices good choices I made," he says.
"I can see the difference in me, on the boys, everyone's benefiting from it.
"One of the directors, introduced me to Asha. I was inspired. I know how hard is to bring boys together and manage a team and for a female, especially a Muslim female to do it. Since from the first day, I fell in love with this club.
"They used to come to football to kick about, but now they have something to focus on. They have a team. They have someone to rely on. They call us sometimes it's not just a football like general stuff in life advise or anything. They have somewhere to go to. That's a big thing. And it's rewarding for us as well.
It's a home to everyone, especially young boys and girls. It's a home for community changes. It's not just football, it started from football but it's a community."
Date: 5 January 2022