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'My life was a mess, football saved me,' says ex-Bradford City footballer


EX-BRADFORD CIty defender Wayne Jacobs feared he would have been “dead by 30, or in prison,” had it not been for football. 

In a moving presentation, the sportsman-turned-charity founder spoke about how his early success on the pitch was in contrast to the “absolute shambles” elsewhere in his life. 

He said: “I got myself into a bit of a mess and I can see when I look back, my world was getting darker and darker. More depression and not being able to handle that.”

Wayne, whose career started at Sheffield Wednesday when he was 16, was speaking at a panel event, Scoring Goals for Peace and Sustainability to discuss the power of football in solving the world's problem, held at the University of Bradford, with a live broadcast to Kent State University, Ohio, USA. 

Pictured above: Wayne Jacobs

He detailed how he became a “moody” child after his parents split when he was six, and how he turned to drink in his late teens. 

“Back then, I would confess I would be dead by the time I got to the 30 years of age, or in prison,” he said. “I look to the power of football when my life was really nearly gone and in a mess and it kept me within boundaries. Boundaries of friendships, the laws of the game, punctuality. I learned about success and failure.”

Wayne, who played for Bradford City for 11 years including two seasons in the Premier League, turned his life around when he found Christianity in his 20s.  

He is co-founder and CEO of the charity One in a Million, which engages children and young people through sports, the arts and enterprise as well as running a secondary school. 

Power and impact

Speaking about his desire to start the charity 17 years ago, Wayne said: “I noticed the power and the impact the status of being a footballer gives you, from being able to go to a hospital and light up a young person’s face or go into schools and work with the hardest to reach and the teacher tells you, ‘They have listened to you more in five minutes than they ever do.’

“Using the power of sport for a positive, to impact communities, has a far bigger reach than just the football itself and that’s amazing.”

The event on Monday, 28 November 2022, hosted by Prathivadi Anand, Professor of Public Policy and Sustainability, also featured a presentation by Yolanda Antin, Partnerships Coordinator at Barça Foundation, the charitable arm of FC Barcelona, and Tom Woodhouse, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. 

Professor Woodhouse, who is also Advisor to the Independent Football Ombudsman, said: "There can be a lot of cynicism around the idea football can be a tool for peace making and sustainability. It's a competitive game, it's male dominated, there's hooliganism attached to it.

"But some of the greatest people in peace research, like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, saw that sport has the power to change the world, to inspire and to unite."

Pictured above: Emeritus Professor Tom Woodhouse, Yolanda Antin, Vice-Chancellor Shirley Congdon and Professor Anand

Yolanda spoke about how the Foundation is striving to meet the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals in their work across education, community action and healthcare in 34 countries.

Last year, the Foundation reached over one million beneficiaries. 

Yolanda said: “Sport and football really can contribute to making a better world for children.”

Professor Woodhouse and Yolanda have cooperated on a number of initiatives  in Spain and England on the role of football as a mechanism for promoting peace and development for 11 years.

They first worked together on the design of a master’s degree in Sport for Conflict Resolution and Peace in 2010, which was founded by the Barça Foundation under the umbrella of the FC Barcelona and UNESCO chair on Sport as a tool for Peace and Conflict Resolution and run by Open University of Catalunya. Since then, Yolanda has presented a series of seminars on the work of the Barca Foundation. Her role as a Board Member of the European Football for Development Network has given her an unrivalled knowledge of the positive impact of football and sport on peacebuilding and development

Yolanda also met with the University's Vice-Chancellor Shirley Congdon to discuss their shared goals. 

This year, the University signed a four-year partnership with Bradford City AFC which renamed the club's Valley Parade home ground, The University of Bradford Stadium

Professor Congdon said: "I was pleased to welcome Yolanda to the University. The Barça Foundation, with its years of experience in providing help to millions around the world, is a shining example of how sport can have a positive impact on society. 

"On a smaller scale, we hope to emulate their success in making a difference to our community through our partnership with Bradford City AFC."