Former footballer Mark Bright told of his fears for his teenage son after a youngster of the same age was stabbed to death near his south London home.
Bright, 57, was emotional when he saw a picture of 19-year-old Lejean Richards among tributes, describing his death as “harrowing, tragic and desperate”.
The ex-Crystal Palace striker told the Standard the image reminded him of Isaiah, who is studying history at university. Mr Richards was attacked 500 yards from the primary school attended by Prince George, in February last year.
Bright said: “I looked at his photo and I thought, ‘He’s the same age as my son’.”
Of the advice he has given to Isaiah, whose mother is former EastEnders actress Michelle Gayle, he added: “He’s been told if someone stops you with a knife and they ask for your wallet and phone, give it to them.”
Last week Mayor Sadiq Khan joined Bright at Selhurst Park where they met young people steered away from crime by activities run by the Palace for Life Foundation and Premier League Kicks. Youngsters are referred to the programme by schools, youth offending teams or pupil referral units and receive support to get them back into education and employment.
Many of the mentors have come from similar backgrounds. Mr Khan is supporting the foundation’s work via a £1.2 million grant to Croydon council from round two of his Young Londoners’ Fund. Bright said: “Our liaison team go to the south Croydon police station when the kids are arrested and get a chance to speak to them. If it’s a misdemeanour, they can go to court or come with us and talk about turning your life around. It’s about seeing if they’re interested in taking another route.”
Bright grew up in foster care and credits Palace for helping him turn his life around. Mr Khan said: “When I was teenager, boxing kept me out of mischief.
“Sport can change young people’s lives, that’s why I want Londoners to have the same opportunities that I did.”
Angel O’Dwyer, of the Palace for Life Foundation, added: “It can be hard for a young person to turn their life around when things have gone wrong, but with the right support it can be done.”