An inspiring graduate who started a football team in honour of his friend who was stabbed to death just seconds from his home, now dreams of creating a youth football academy to help young people find a “new world” without knife crime.
Abdul Aziz, 23, first had the brainwave for New World FC after reconnecting with friends from the north west London estate where he grew up at the funeral of his former classmate, Abdullahi Hassan, 20, in the summer of 2019.
Shocked to the core by the fatal attack in South Hampstead – for which two men were tried and acquitted at the Old Bailey – Abdul, of Kilburn, north west London, said: “Growing up where we did you have to have fear to survive.”
“Growing up in London there are some things you can’t avoid, some things you just have to adapt to,” he said.
“Every time I get back to the area I have to be on guard.
“When I was playing football as a kid, I used to play in the Regent’s Park League, so I thought, ‘why not pay homage to the league that planted a seed in my subconscious and start from there?’ I’m starting from my roots.”
Abdul continued: “playing football brings people a sense of community and something to look forward to.”
Dismayed by the lack of youth centres and youth football clubs that were a lifeline for him and his mates growing up, Abdul is not content just to have started New World FC, which is in the running to receive a grant of £3,000 from electrical giant Panasonic.
He is now determined to start a football academy to help keep teenagers from his area away from knife crime – providing them with a constructive outlet to stop them from being dragged into violent gangs.
For youngsters growing up on London estates, according to Abdul, knife crime is so rife that a case of mistaken identity could result in death.
He said: “When I was at primary school, I got an MSN message from a friend from my estate saying an older boy had been stabbed right in front of my block of flats.
“I was on holiday at the time, and it made for an unpleasant return home, to see the police cordon right in front of our block.”
“It brought the danger of knife crime home to me for the first time,” said Abdul.
Throughout high school, there were “murmurings” of violence on neighbouring estates and Abdul was encouraged by his family to stay inside as much as possible and not to stray far from his own area.
He continued: “It’s like estate warfare. It also felt like postcode wars at the time. It taught me to stay close to my home and stay vigilant at all times.”
“And by the time I reached secondary school, my parents wouldn’t let me leave the surroundings of our estate,” he said.
But it was after he had left school in 2019, while he was on holiday visiting family in Tanzania after his second year studying electromechanical engineering at Coventry University, that Abdul received the terrible news of his friend’s death.
“I was abroad when I heard Abdullahi had been stabbed,” he said.
“I was confused and shocked. How could it have been him? We were planning to link up when I got home to play football again,” he added.
“I guess he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was devastating.”
Abdullahi was stabbed in South Hampstead, north west London, on 25 July 2019. Two men were cleared of his murder at the Old Bailey the following year.
Abdul continued: “To hear that Abdullahi had lost his life hit home a lot. You hear all these stories about knife crime across London, but when it happens so close to home it definitely has a devastating effect.
“We think Abdullahi was mistaken for someone else and was in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I’m sure he wasn’t involved in a violent lifestyle.
“In an area like the one where I grew up, if you get mistaken for someone then you’re likely to be attacked. I think that’s one of the biggest issues for my generation at the moment.”
“To take someone’s life is bad enough, but if it’s a case of mistaken identity it’s even more painful,” he said.
But Abdul and his friends were determined their former schoolmate’s death should not be in vain – so started their football team in his honour.
Abdul said: “Abdullahi’s funeral brought us all together.”
“There were a lot of emotions going through me that day and we were all determined to do something positive in his name,” he added.
While the football team has been a resounding success, the friends’ ambitions do not stop there.
After finishing his master’s degree in Energy Engineering at the University of East Anglia in the summer, Abdul is now back in London and has joined forces with his pal Kamrul Uddin, 25, a football coach, in the hope of starting a youth academy branch of their team.
Abdul said “Playing football when I was younger helped me to steer clear of violence, so I am sure it will be a positive outlet for young people.
“As a youth, you don’t really know what’s right or wrong.
“You are influenced by your peers.
“So, if you’re growing up in a situation where you’re exposed to gang related business – the drugs, knife crime, and the fast money – that’s all you’re going to know unless you find another outlet.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police confirmed that Abdullahi’s killer has still not been caught.
In a statement, they said: “The investigation into the fatal stabbing of Cabdullahi Hassan in South Hampstead remains open.
“Detectives continue to believe that a number of people were involved in the attack and would urge any witnesses, who are yet to speak with police, to come forward. Any piece of information could prove vital.”
Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101 quoting CAD 10016/25Jul19 2020 or the incident room on 020 8358 0200. To remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555