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King: "Millwall?s a community family"

8 March 2013

Dave King, under questioning, proved no less impressive than he has been through several years of leading Millwall's community scheme - one of the most successful in the land.

On the wall behind him in the Lions Centre there is a photograph of the first Sport For Good festival, hosted at Millwall's community HQ, and opened by legendary Olympic runner Edwin Moses and Indian cricketer Kapil Dev.

It is an image that celebrates further recognition of Millwall's splendid community work, very much part of the fabric of the club and a key asset to building bridges within the community.

Yet their community work is occasionally at odds with the club's national profile.

Last month, Millwall were under the national spotlight following an investigation into fan behaviour that saw a supporter handed a five-year ban from football matches for shouting racist abuse at a Leeds United player.

"You can do a hundred great things in the community - and we do make people's lives a bit better every week with what Millwall contribute to our community - but with a single incident it can all come crashing down," said King.

"I do worry whether it could have an affect on the work we do in the community.

"You could be looking for funding or working in partnership with a local company, for example, and they might say, 'hang on a minute, this isn't very good. We don't want to work with the club because they're racist'.

"There is that fear, but here we are in the capital, at the heart of a vibrant, multi-cultural society and this is about doing our part to stop it because racism has no place in football or society in 2013.

"All I can give is my view on what a fantastic football club this is because we are a family here."

The Lions Centre, with its giant sports hall, has helped thousands of underprivileged kids from all backgrounds.

It is not only home to several sports groups, but also vital programmes helping social inclusion.

As a result, it is now one of the most prestigious projects of its kind in the country, a world away from Millwall's sullied public image of the 1980s.

"There's a striking difference between Millwall in the community, which is positive contact, and the image of the club's past," said King.

"People with a direct connection with Millwall don't recognise that criticism when it comes from outside because every week we work with thousands of people of all races who benefit from the community schemes."

The 28-year-old Community Trust regularly lands awards, the latest being the PFA Player in the Community for 2012 received by Millwall midfielder Tamika Mkandawire.

Millwall has also been shortlisted several times for the Football League's Community Club of the Year award.

Crucially, manager Kenny Jackett takes a great interest in the community.

"We have a very supportive club, who recognise the work we do and that's our great strength.

"Kenny comes into the community office to see if everything is okay, asking if we will need a player to represent the club at a community function and that means an awful lot.

"When Gary Alexander [ex-player] was here he was never off the telephone wanting to do stuff in the community, as was Neil Harris, who was fantastic.

"He went on his day off to a junior community football tournament, spending eight hours giving advice and team talks. I got a letter from a lady who said her son, who had attended the tournament, was proud to be connected with Millwall's community.

"Another lady contacted us saying her son of 14 was bullied at school and had very little confidence. The only positive in his life was Millwall.

"We invited him down to the community, took him under our wing really.

"Now he is a part-time member of the community's coaching staff and to see the change in him as a person is remarkable.

"There's a great togetherness between the community and the club and to have the power to empower other people is such a special responsibility.

"I recall a quote from the Spiderman film; 'with great power comes great responsibility' and that's what I tell our community staff."

In 2011, the Millwall Community Scheme won funding from Lewisham Council for the project Giving Youth Violence the Red Card - created to raise awareness of youth violence to parents and young people.

Mkandawire was its player ambassador and when Lewisham Hospital Accident and Emergency Department, childrens ward, intensive care and maternity were threatened with closure the players took to the pitch in T-shirts declaring their support and the club now intends to create a video to support it.

"A lot of our staff are local people, volunteers who have become employees, and these people have a positive attachment to Millwall and are aware of the problems that local people face.

"We are at the heart of the community, but as a white, working class man I don't know how I can connect with a man in his fifties with racist views.

"But, crucially, what we can do is to educate and set a positive example to young people - and that's what we try and do in our community because our whole existence is about the social good that football can do.

'We've made massive strides in the past 25 years to tackle racism, but there is still work to be done."

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