Arsenal s English midfielder Bukayo Saka (L) celebrates with team mates after he scores his team s opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium in London on January 1, 2022 (AFP)
As 2021 drew to a close last week, the stabbing of a 16-year-old boy saw London mourn a record 30th teenage homicide in a year just as Arsenal was already preparing to roll out its "No More Red'' campaign.
The north London club's players will wear unique all-white Adidas jerseys _ drained of the club's traditional red colors _ on Sunday for the FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest.
"The white shirt is a symbol of that stand against knife crime,'' said Jack Ironside, who has worked on Arsenal's schemes in London communities for 15 years. "It's devastating for individuals, it's devastating for families and devastating for the communities that they live in.
"That trauma is lived by their friends and their families that live on. But what we've got an opportunity to do here is raise awareness and look at solutions _ not answers. We don't have the answer but positive contributions.''
The one-off kits will not be sold anywhere. Only those worn by the starting 10 outfield players in Sunday's match will be released as gifts to community organizations working to tackle the causes of youth violence which mostly involves knife crimes.
"It's not something that is going to be resolved overnight," Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. "But certainly giving it the exposure and the attention that is needed then hopefully many other people can jump on this initiative and try to resolve it because it's a big issue in London.''
As a senior manager for social inclusion, Ironside's work with Arsenal involves collaborating with youth offending services and prisons, trying to help young people find alternative pathways through a career rather than resorting to violence.
"Our priorities are social outcomes rather than sports outcomes,'' Ironside said.
Those include offering hope to youngsters, particularly in more deprived parts of the capital, and renovating footballing facilities they can use.
"Those are much more than football pitches,'' Ironside said. "They are actually safe spaces for young people to spend their time and connect with others and spend time with positive role models.
"What we are trying to do there is actually work with young people off the pitch rather than on it. So that the pitch itself and that football activity is the tool to engage. But it's actually how we support them away from that football pitch that really matters.''
A campaign video features the actor Idris Elba, who grew up in east London and has his own "Don't Stab Your Future" initiative.
"From the time young people leave school, until the time they're at home with family, there is often a void, a dangerous spike of nothing to do, where nothing can easily turn to something dangerous," Elba said in a statement.
"If there continues to be no options for this after-school period, we will always see gangs form. Let's create options for these young people.''
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)