Get Involved
The FA

Changing lives for the better

Ex-offender Pete Bell says football saved his life as he aims to help current inmates

Thursday 18 Jan 2018

I call it my three years in the wilderness.

I’d just come out of Lincoln prison after serving three months of a six-month sentence.

I was 26-years-old and had always been trouble-free previously, but I had got into a relationship which spiralled out of control and central to that was a custody battle. I was drinking heavily, got into crime, and my son also died during this time.

My world had ended and after my release, I was unemployed.

I can still remember the turning point now. After seeing an advert at the Job Centre, I enrolled with Notts County’s ‘Football in the Community’ scheme on a training programme, and after spending six months there and doing my FA Preliminary coaching course, I knew it was exactly what I wanted in my life and I had found what I should be doing.

I stopped drinking, was crime-free and embraced education and here I am 22 years later with 18 qualifications, experience and having travelled extensively through work.

I didn’t start coaching until I was 29, so I had to play catch-up but I’d say that was the age when I first really discovered education and how it can change lives for the better.

The FA ;

I’ve now been an FA coach mentor, working across Leicestershire and Derbyshire with various grassroots coaches and clubs, for the last four years after spending the previous 14 years as a coach educator and delivering the FA Level One qualification on over 90 occasions. I’ve also worked in further education and presently, university football.

And earlier this year I entered HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton, to do a bespoke coaching course for inmates to give them a flavour of what it means to be a coach and involved in the grassroots game.

Knowing some of the things I do about the Criminal Justice System, it’s really evident that there’s lots of education going on. G4S, who manage the prisons, are key in the rehabilitation of offenders and embraced me, for which I thank them.

All the men in our care will most likely one day be released back into the community and it is essential that we do all we can to try and break the habits and patterns of behaviour that led them here. Mr Bell was a great asset to Oakwood.
- John McLaughlin, Director, HMP Oakwood

I always felt that football had never done enough in prisons, so I wanted to highlight and push that, to do some more work in that area and be more inclusive and diverse.

With my background, having spent time in prison and now doing what I do, it was brilliant for me to be able to spend one day a week at Oakwood for seven weeks, working with 16 inmates.

The first thing I said to them was: "I was once sat where you are." I felt proud to be able to say that, given how far I've come in the years since I was released.

That got them onside straight away and I went on to work with the guys on practical sessions, the role of the coach and discussing the qualifications and opportunities that are on offer on the outside.

There’s a lot of potential talent in our prisons. Of course, there are people who need to be there to keep the public safe, but there’s also people who we’re simply annoyed at and there’s a massive groundswell to educate ex-offenders and get them into work.

There’s also a chance that some potential footballers can end up in prison, young men who get manipulated when they come out of an academy and end up involved in crime and all the rest of it, so we want to try and get them back into the game when they come out.

A lot of companies and industries are doing work in this area to stop the re-offending, and it costs the country thousands of pounds to keep a person in prison.

Sport is a real benefit in prisons so it’s not just a case of an ex-offender goes in and does a bit of football, there’s a lot of plans to try and turn this into something really positive and special.

There was one particular guy in there, Jason, who was previously involved in grassroots football in Manchester. I’ve left my business cards for the prisoners when they are released and he said he would give me a ring when he’s out next year. That’s the sort of thing that I want to try and encourage – people to not just fly by and disappear, we want them to be re-ignited and back into grassroots. I want to offer a custody-to-community through education path.

Mr Bell’s coaching was well received with positive feedback given from both staff and prisoners, who have asked to work with Pete upon their release.
- G4S

I have a project called ‘Step Out, Stay Out’ and I’ve spoken to the Ministry of Justice with the great support of my MP, Lilian Greenwood, about potentially delivering this sort of thing in more prisons.

It’s a massive passion of mine to change the stigma around people who have made mistakes and perhaps haven’t had the support when they come out of prison and end up in that vicious circle of re-offending.

And through mentoring and football education, I believe we can help people to get the same sort of opportunities that I was offered to make a positive impact on the lives of others in the same situation and also improve the number and standard of coaching across England.

I’m very open to hear from any individuals or groups who may be able to enhance my passion to help make a difference. Thank you to all who have helped me, it’s been tough and is still tough but I’m not deterred.

Are you inspired by Pete's story? Find out more on how you can get started on your own coaching pathway, with our variety of courses. 

All clubs and coaches can also get mentor support, from coaches such as Pete. Find out more about our coach mentor programme.

By Pete Bell FA coach mentor