A MIDNIGHT soccer league for youngsters in Ballymun has resulted in a massive decrease in crime and anti-social behaviour among teenagers and has helped heal rifts between local gardaí and adolescents.
The soccer league, played over several weeks every Friday night, has been a major success and has attracted huge numbers of teenagers and young adults. The league was organised by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), in conjunction with the local authority, community gardaí in Ballymun, and Youngballymun, a community group that works with youngsters.
Community gardaí and Youngballymun have been recruiting local teenagers to get involved and have had a massive response. On an average Friday night before the soccer league was running, gardaí at Ballymun received an average of 89 call-outs to deal with anti-social behaviour. But since the league has been running, the average number of call-outs relating to youngsters has been just 44 – half the previous amount.
The FAI has introduced the late-night soccer leagues in various disadvantaged parts of Dublin and there are plans for the programme to be extended nationally. The FAI is seeking a sponsor to fund this.
Inspector Andrew Watters of Ballymun garda station said the success of the soccer leagues was immeasurable. Gardaí and FAI officials train and referee the youngsters.
"The kids are aged from 13 upwards. This is about giving them something to do on a Friday night so that they're not hanging around the flats complexes and housing estates, potentially getting themselves into trouble. They play for a few hours until well after midnight and go straight home exhausted. It is helping us break down barriers between gardaí and youngsters."
Youngballymun's jigsaw project, as part of its mental health week, has sponsored prizes for the soccer league in an effort to highlight the link between exercise and positive mental health.
"It is on late at night, a time when kids could be at risk of being drawn into activities that are not good for them or the community," said the chief executive of Youngballymun, Eleanor McClorey.