It was a lovely September Sunday morning when the Kestrel football team arrived to take part in the first ever Spring Hill 5-a-side football tournament. Involving outside teams from partner organisations, plus teams of residents, this was a bold initiative by the prison. And ahead of kick off the Kestrel side – made up of three actors (Barney White, Jack Ashton and Jeremy Nuemark Jones) plus two supporters (Ricky Needham and John McShane) – was understandably unsure of what to expect.
It turned out the football was fast, free-flowing and full of endeavour. At times, out on the field behind the prison, it looked like a Barcelona training session. Or at least it would if observed through heavily tinted sunglasses. In front of a supportive crowd of the curious, the five teams played each other in a round robin. Before kick off, the officer in charge explained that there were three points available for a win, two for a draw and one for a defeat. Which immediately reassured the Kestrel team that they were certain to gain at least four points from their four matches.
As it happened, they began with a well-deserved 3-3 draw against the first Spring Hill side, a team which included a couple of players of serious ability. They then took the lead against the team from Aspire (the excellent Oxford charity which helps ex-prisoners into employment) only for the goal to be ruled out because the scorer had strayed into the penalty area. Where, the crowd wondered, was VAR when you needed it? Aspire took advantage to score the only goal of the game late on into the ten minutes of available playing time. Slightly chastened, Kestrel then lost to the second Spring Hill team 4-2, before finishing off with a resounding 8-0 victory over RAW, the Blackbird Leys-based charity which offers the unemployed apprenticeships in carpentry skills.
That goal rout meant Kestrel finished third in the table on goal difference. Delighted to have been invited, and having enjoyed the experience, the players determined they would come back next year. And win it. Though their chances were put into perspective somewhat by one of the prisoners who was asked whether the Spring Hill 11-a-side team ever played visiting sides. When told that they did, one of the players suggested maybe it would be good to bring in a Kestrel team to take them on.
“That would be great, man,” came back the reply. “We could do with a win.”
Jim White (Coach)