Former England footballer Ian Wright has linked funding cuts to youth centres to “lives being wasted” at an anti-knife crime initiative launched by Arsenal Football Club.
The No More Red initiative aims to keep young people safe from knife crime and youth violence, and is being supported by former Arsenal striker Wright as well as Gunners fan, actor and DJ Idris Elba.
There were more than 10,000 knife crime offences in London between June 2020 and June 2021.
Last year also saw the highest number of teenage murders in a year in London since records began – most of which involved knife attacks.
The launch of the initiative saw Arsenal ditch their iconic red shirts for an all-white kit during Sunday’s FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest.
Speaking at the City Ground Stadium before kick-off, Wright, 58, said he had been “lucky” growing up to have access to youth workers and “people who were looking out for me”.
He added: “Being a dad, granddad, great-granddad coming up to be honest, but the fact is I was fortunate when I was younger to have the spaces, have the youth workers.
“When you look at the last 10 years, 750 youth centres closed down, 4,500 people out of work, youth workers, people you build relationships with, people who know you, and then when you look at the lives that are being wasted… this campaign is about… inspiration and action.”
Teenagers died ‘senselessly’ in London last year
Golden Globe winner Elba, 49, said the campaign was a call for “no more bloodshed” after 30 teenagers, who “died senselessly” in killings in London last year.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” he said. “No More Red literally means no more bloodshed. We can do something – football is watched by teenagers.”
Elba, who wore the all-white kit during the match yesterday, said the aim of the campaign isn’t to stop gang culture but to offer young people an alternative.
“We’re never going to stop gang culture, that’s not the aim. But we want to give an alternative,” he said.
“Last year, 30 kids – and I’m going to say ‘kids’ – died senselessly over knife crime. And the year before that, the year before that, it’s an ongoing problem.
“Ian [Wright] and I teamed up with Arsenal and Adidas to make a point and say something about it.”
Praise from Labour and Conservatives
Priti Patel and London Mayor Sadiq Khan both praised the initiative, with the home secretary describing it as “hugely powerful”.
Mr Khan said that he’ll be “cheering Arsenal” in a Tweet, despite being a Liverpool fan.
The kit was modelled by England youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe before the match, which Arsenal lost 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Forrest captain Lewis Grabban.
The 10 shirts worn by the outfield players won’t be placed on sale but will be donated to organisations and charities trying to address some of the root causes of violent youth crime.