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Football coach is using the sport to keep young people away from gang violence and build bridges in the community.

When Asha Rage enrolled on a coaching course at Aston Villa, she wasn’t really there to learn about tactics and the merits of a flat back four. She had never played football but her plan was to use the game to help get young people off the streets and give them new opportunities.

In 2016 she set up a football team in Small Heath called Dream Chasers FC, with more than 160 youngsters now training weekly and Asha encouraging more Muslim girls to take part. But the club is about much more than goals and trophies, with a youth club that is open every day as well as support for adults. It holds Coffee with a Coppa sessions, helping the community form bonds with local police officers, and discuss any potential issues in a friendly setting. There are also Street Watch walks, litter picks, English lessons for migrant parents, dance lessons for women, and healing paint workshops to help with mental health and wellbeing.

More recently with the cost of living crisis they have been handing out food parcels and earlier this year Asha and a group of mothers produced hundreds of Ramadan packs for Muslim prisoners which including prayer mats, and spiritual books, and treats to break their fast.

The realities of life on the street are all too clear for 45-year-old Asha. There are on average 14 knife crimes a day across the West Midlands, and in 2019 players at Dream Chasers FC lost a friend in a knife attack.

She says: “I faced a lot of negativity at the beginning as a Muslim woman playing football. Now parents say: ‘If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know what my boys would be doing’.”

Date: 7 March 2023

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