Youth Gangs and the value of sport in the
2008 European Capital of Culture
James Kenyon
[email protected]
(Liverpool Hope University | Loughborough University)
UNeECC-Compostela Conference, University of Pécs, 14th – 15th Oct. 2010
Gangs are not a newly conceived phenomenon
Gangs have attracted a considerable (media and
political) attention in the UK in recent years.
Can be explained by increases in anti-social
behaviour and knife and gun crime among
elements of UK youth culture
(Marshall et al., 2005)
Overlooked by academics until recently
The aim of this research was to
examine the extent to which
community sports programmes
serve as an effective tool in
preventing youth engagement in
gang culture
Definitional Issues
Gangs are difficult to define
General consensus is:
A durable group of young people, with a group
identity, which are structured or organised (to
a certain degree) and, at some level, are
involved in criminal, delinquent or anti-social
(Aldridge and Medina-Ariza, 2007; Hallsworth and Young, 2004)
Since the beginning of Liverpool’s economic
implosion in the 1960s/70s, the city has
developed a (media-induced) reputation for:
• anti-social behaviour
• drugs
• hooliganism
• crime
• and more recently… youth-gang culture
(see for example, Boland, 2008; Doward, 2007)
Liverpool was ‘first mainland city [in the UK] to
have openly armed police officers patrolling the
(Boland, 2008: pg. 361)
Between 1994 - 1997, Merseyside was responsible
for approximately 80% of the UK’s imported heroin
(Anderson cited in Campbell, 1998: pg. 4)
Between 2006 - 2007, in the 1st year of SOCA,
Liverpool was revealed as being the UK's centre for
organised crime outside London
(Merrick, 2007)
2007 – 11 year old Rhys Jones killed in cross-fire of
gang-related shooting
Youth gang feud in
Croxteth / Norris Green
Significant coverage in
national and international
- Young Gunmen (2008)
- Ross Kemp on Gangs (2009)
Reasons for Engagement (US)
Fiscal reasons
A family tradition
(National Crime Prevention Council, 2006)
Risk Factors for Engagement (UK)
Lack of Education
Training and Employability
Criminal Lifestyles
Thinking and Behaviour Problems
(Dawson, 2008)
Geographical Areas of Academic Interest
1. Edinburgh
(e.g. Smith et al., 2001)
2. Manchester
(e.g. Bennett and Holloway, 2004 ; Bullock and Tilley, 2002;
Mares, 2001)
3. Liverpool
(e.g. Bennett and Holloway, 2004; Dawson, 2008)
4. Birmingham
(e.g. Bennett and Holloway, 2004; Dawson, 2008)
5. London
(e.g. Bennett and Holloway, 2004 ; Dawson, 2008;
Pitts, 2007)
Key Research
Contrary to popular belief (i.e. the media), gangs have a loose
structure and lacked formal leadership
(Mares, 2001)
Which supports more current research that maintains the structure of
youth gangs is ‘fluid, loose [and] messy’
(Aldridge and Medina-Ariza, 2007: 17)
Most gang members are - to some degree - involved in violence, crime
and/or drugs (either consuming or selling)
(Aldridge and Medina-Ariza, 2007; Bullock and Tilley, 2002;
Mares, 2001, Pitts, 2007; Smith, 2001).
In most major cities in the UK with a significant gang problem,
members are more likely to be young black males of African or
Caribbean descent
(Dawson, 2008; Mares, 2001)
…except in Liverpool where almost all are white
(Dawson, 2008)
Why Sport??? Why Liverpool???
Community sport is considered to be a practical means of addressing
society’s problems
Anti-social behaviour is listed as the top priority in Liverpool’s Crime,
Disorder, Anti-Social Behaviour & Drug Misuse Strategy 2005 – 2008
(Citysafe, 2005)
Anti-social behaviour is more likely to be prevalent in underprivileged
neighbourhoods (Utting, 1997) & Liverpool is the most deprived local
authority in the UK (SRCD, 2008).
Liverpool is famous throughout the world for its sporting icons and
institutions (Boland, 2008; Kenyon & Rookwood, 2010; Rookwood, 2010)
Almost two-thirds of population participate regularly (Sport England,
Qualitative approach
Online and offline ethnographic techniques
Participant observation (PO), interviews (IV),
focus groups (FG), content analysis
Rich material, reliable evidence
PO: details
Perceptions of Problem
Divergence in opinion concerning the extent of
the problem.
• expert-interviewees  big problem
• younger respondents  not that big a problem
Has the youth population in these deprived
communities become desensitised to elements of
criminality and anti-social behaviour to such a degree
that they no longer consider certain behaviours to be
anti-social or criminal, but more so, to be part of daily
Engagement & ‘Membership’
Daytime Activities
• Playing football
• Smoking marijuana (but not dealing)
Night-time Activities
• Drinking (usually only on a weekend)
• Meeting up with girls
The above is not too dissimilar from youth
behaviour throughout the UK
Engagement & ‘Membership’
No initiation ceremony
‘Membership’ came from ‘hanging around’
with friends who were already involved.
There was usually no ‘leader’
Where there was, it was usually the young
person considered to be the hardest (best
Engagement & Community Sport
Findings are consistent with previous research
conducted on anti-social behaviour
(Morris et al., 2003)
Achieving reductions in engagement comes
from decreasing the amount of unsupervised
leisure time:
‘… it’s mainly down to boredom. The kids I’ve coached usually
say that there’s nothing for them to do. And if they’ve got an
interest in football and join our team, they train so many nights
a week, they haven’t got as much time to be hanging around
being bored’ (FG Resp.).
Engagement & Community Sport
The physical demands of sport are SOMEWHAT
attributable in preventing engagement in gang
culture and ASB
‘when they get back from training, they’re tired and
they just want to relax’ (FG Resp.)
‘…it just takes it out of you when you play footy […]
and then goin’ out and causin’ trouble and all that… be
arsed?’ (FG Resp).
Engagement & Community Sport
Community sport can deter:
• binge drinking
• drug-taking sessions
in the evenings preceding weekend participation.
‘Go ‘ed lad… I didn’t go out last night or anythin’. I’ve stopped all
that the night before a game since I started playing for youse.
Nice and fresh kid.’
Scouse-to-English Translation:
Hello my friend… I decided not to go out drinking last night. I
have stopped going out the night before we play since I signed
for the football team. I like to feel nice and fresh for the game my
Long Term Benefits
Findings are consistent with Nichols (1997) and
Utting (1997) research into deviance and sport.
Lasting benefits are achieved through:
• Improvements in cognitive and social skills
• Reductions in impulsive and risk-taking behaviours
• Increases in self esteem and confidence
• Improvements in education and employment
It would be naïve to suppose that participation
in community sport can eradicate all traces of
engagement in ASB & Gang Culture
But it can certainly reduce engagement!
Community sport should (and must) be
integrated into a wider holistic programme of
community development.
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