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December 04, 2002
Sports gangs

I have already reported on some schemes on both sides of the Atlantic to bring rowdy and uncivilised boys into closer touch with the kind of good men they might become, rather than the other kind. Here is another such scheme. The US Football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, has a scheme to reward "socially disadvantaged" youths with tickets to games, if they behave themselves better. This is the "Honor Rows Program".

In Britain there is a crisis of youthful male energy, caused by the decline of team sports at schools. School sports grounds are now being relentlessly sold off for other more immediately profitable uses, and as the schools diminish into mere exam-passing machines, or worse, it seems to me that other more successful institutions in our society could and should be taking up the educational slack.

In Britain the obvious candidates are the big soccer clubs. These enterprises have traditionally tended to concentrate on their one obsession, winning first team soccer games. But you have only to think of the names of some of the big continental European soccer teams "Sporting" Lisbon, "Athletico" Madrid to realise that it doesn't have to be like this. And think of the big soccer team based in the Italian city of Turin. It's simply called "Juventus", which presumably means "Youth", or something very like it. It's nick-name - "Juve" - is even the same as the American slang word for a juvenile correctional institution.

Is anyone aware of any of the big British Football clubs Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and so on doing anything along these lines? (My fellow Samizdata writer David Carr is a big Chelsea fan. Maybe he knows something about this.) Obviously all these clubs have their "youth teams", but by the nature of things, the majority of the boys involved in such efforts tend not to make it into big-time professional soccer. So it would make sense for the clubs, if their youth team set-ups are to be attractive to the promising boys they want to attract, to make sure that the disappointed ones get a soft landing into adulthood, rather than just a hideous disappointment-for-life.

As the schools retreat to their (literally in this case) core curriculum, other institutions that are doing better could and should expand into this gaping educational void.

For what else is a sports team if not a socially acceptable re-invention of the youthful gang? You want to get rid of bad gangs? Set up other gangs, which do all that the bad gangs do that's fun (basically have exciting battles with the other gangs) but which break rather fewer of the rules of adult society.

The idea that boys can somehow be persuaded to refrain entirely from being boys for the duration is, by comparison, very foolish.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:48 PM
Category: Boys will be boys
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