Nightingales has been using football to mentor young men, to prevent them from trafficking young girls since 2012.
Initially we ran a five a side football team that played in a local league. From the first game where we struggled to get 6 players, within 18 months we were running our own league with up to 120 young men taking part on a Monday night.
It became hard to use this as a mentoring opportunity due to the vast numbers of people involved, and the lack of volunteers. Then when the sports hall that we were using was closed down for renovations, it gave us some time to decide how we could best use football to effect change in the lives of the young men in Cernavoda.
In 2018, A.S Emaus Cernavoda, joined the sixth tier of the Romanian football league, with the dream being that in 7 years we could be playing champions league football!!! The reality has not quite followed the dream. At the half way point of the first season, we are bottom of the 6th division, but off the pitch the young men are growing, maturing and have proved themselves to be positive members of society. together with a team from Constanta.
A. S Emaus was born from the young men in Cernavoda, with whom Nightingales had been working; a group of young people who had recently left the state care/orphanage system of Constanta, some recovering addicts and a group of boys living in a Roma, a community in Constanta.
More than 70% of the young men involved in the Football Academy are now also in fulltime employment or education. Many of them have started to volunteer at local football projects which help disadvantaged young people in the local area, and some will be helping to run a pilot scheme in a local prison, to teach the members of the prison life skills and football skills.
This group of young men are proud of their team, they have the smartest strip in the league, (the old Sunderland away kit); they play their home games at the third largest stadium in Romania (for no fee); for Christmas their received original polo shirts and jackets from the England team and, they have the only foreign coach in the league. So far the only victory on the pitch was celebrated like they had won the champions league. Although the hard work in training has not yet been translated into results on the pitch, off their pitch in their lives they have had great wins and I am sure these young men and team will have more and more success.
It is strange for the team when they lose a game to be asked by the opposition, how can they come and play for them, because even though they have beaten them, they prefer the atmosphere, the way they support each other on the pitch and the team spirit between the players, coaches and even the ball boy. This is a different team, playing a different style of football with some beautiful results on and off the pitch.