TWO years ago, Middlesbrough teenager Travis Dixon was at risk of being thrown out of the youth programme at the football club he loved.
Staff and parents at Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC)-backed Middlesbrough Football Club Premier League (PL) Kicks were fed up with his swearing and bad attitude. They asked programme managers to ban Travis.
But Liam Watson, Social Inclusion Manager at Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation, took a gamble, allowed Travis to stay and even gave him extra responsibility, helping to run sessions alongside staff.
Now Travis, 18 of Grangetown, is on the road to a full-time career in football coaching, working with participants showing many of the same behaviours he displayed when he was younger.
Travis said: “I just saw this big opportunity, took it with both arms and made the most of it.”
This autumn Travis started a coaching apprenticeship with MFC Foundation at the same time as studying towards a Community Activator Level 2 qualification.
A different future
Without MFC PL Kicks, Travis’ future could have been much different.
He admits that he “lost focus” when making the difficult transition from primary to secondary school.
Travis began to “do things to fit in.” He became disruptive and acted as the class clown. That led to him being placed in a unit with pupils even more disruptive than himself.
He said: “The other pupils were throwing tables, breaking windows and assaulting teachers and the surroundings made me worse at first.”
However, in 2016, he re-discovered his love of football when Middlesbrough were promoted to the Premier League.
He started taking part in MFC PL Kicks, which uses football and Premier League teams to engage with eight to 18-year-olds in deprived areas.
Despite re-discovering his love of football, the road to his current apprenticeship was far from smooth.
Travis was excluded from sessions on a number of occasions for swearing, becoming aggressive and arguing with staff.
Michael Mackin, manager at the foundation’s Herlingshaw Centre, said: “I was getting constant complaints from staff and paying customers regarding Travis’ behaviour, in particular his swearing.
“At times we had no choice but to have him removed from our facility as this began to affect the business”
The turning point
The turning point for Travis was when he watched volunteers and apprentices in action at Kicks . He realised the project could offer him a way forward in life.
From that point, Travis channelled his energies into football. His behaviour gradually improved, his swearing reduced and he became a lot calmer in sessions.
Liam worked with Travis over 18 months as a volunteer. He gave him small goals to achieve on his path to becoming an apprentice.
Liam said: “Working with MFC PL Kicks gave Travis a focus. He saw what was ahead for him here and never looked back.”
Cleveland PCC Steve Turner underlined his support for the programme earlier this year by giving it a three-year funding deal.
Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation will receive £86,000 over the next three years, funding its PL Kicks programme until March 2025. The PCC has helped to fund the programme since 2015.