City Pirates is a social football project in Antwerp, Belgium. We believe that football can change the world. We are active in five complex areas (Merksem, Linkeroever, Luchtbal, Deurne & Dam). Areas that are known for poverty, unemployment, drug trafficking… The youngsters growing up in these areas are often vulnerable and connected to the streets.
Where others see problems, we see opportunities. We believe that if we give these youngsters the trust, the warm welcome and the structure they need, they can and will amaze us. And what better way to make the connection than through football?
And it works. We currently reach 1400 Pirates on a structural basis, aged between 5 and 25, boys and girls; 100 nationalities. What binds them in the first place is the love for the game.
We have a team of seven social workers. Based on the trust that is built through football we can visit the players at home. During such a visit parents ask us questions about administration, job search, debt mediation, the school results of their kids, violence…
Because of the vulnerable and complex context the youngsters grow up, we also try to assist the parents in their pedagogy.
Although our youngsters have the dream to become a professional football player, we need
to be realistic. Most of them won’t make it to the professional football player league. That is why we focus on their school results. We get in contact with their schools, we do follow ups on their results and the youngsters get homework assistance at the club. School results always come first.
But that’s not all. We also give other competence workshops like acquiring digital skills, music and dance workshops in our River Side Studio, assistance in finding a (student) job, cleaning the neighborhood, organising European Eramus+ Projects, and are actively present on the public squares in various neighborhoods.
City Pirates is a project for, of and together with the youngsters. We really want them to participate in the project. We also motivate our youngsters to take certain responsibilities in the club. They can become a volunteer, coach, referee, part of the youth council… In a strong community, everyone helps each other. We expect that our youngsters help others. For example, if we helped certain players to find a student job, we expect them to assist the younger ones later on. In this way, we can grow as a sustainable project.
Whereas football binds our youngsters in the first instance, we find that being a Pirate becomes a positive identity for the youngsters that nurtures a sense of belonging. As a Pirate we are all equal, and we can all be who we really are. It also comes with responsibility. Each one of them is an ambassador of the project. If they misbehave in public, at school, or during a student job, they misbehave as a Pirate, and we will be able to start the conversation. They are a part of City Pirates and they need to want to grow together with the project. Many youngsters in the city of Antwerp want to become a Pirate. We see the effect on our waiting list. Currently there are 700 children on our waiting list. A challenge we want to be able to tackle in the future, but which is of course connected with resources.
City Pirates wants to become a leading example of how football is used to change the position of vulnerable children. Not by holding their hands, but by giving them responsibility, belonging and chances. They have the talent; the world just needs to be able to see it. We hope we convince more clubs to follow this vision and are already sharing our methods with some of them.