Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Saracens use rugby to tackle problem of prisoner re-offending

Saracens use rugby to tackle problem of prisoner re-offending

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Sam Cload (centre) talks to inmates enrolled on the Get Onside programme run by Saracens rugby union club at The Mount prison on the outskirts of Bovingdon village near Hemel Hempstead, southern England, on March 9 last year. SARACENS FOOTBALL CLUB/AFP

Saracens use rugby to tackle problem of prisoner re-offending

On the pitch, Saracens have become one of the giants of European rugby. Off it, they are using their powerful platform to prepare prisoners for life after release.

The three-time European champions have taken their Get Onside programme to The Mount prison, near London, which holds about 1,000 inmates.

The club were pointed in the direction of the category C jail by former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, who launched his Twinning Project in 2018.

That project’s objective is to twin every prison in England and Wales with a local professional football club to improve prisoners’ wellbeing and give them a qualification.

AFP was granted rare access to The Mount to talk to those tasked with putting the men through their paces on the rugby pitch.

At the time of the visit, a total of 30 prisoners were signed up – after security clearance – for the eight-week course, which was due to climax in a match that eventually had to be scrapped because of a coronavirus lockdown.

Inmates are at the prison for offences ranging from theft to murder – the only two categories of prisoner not admitted are those convicted of terrorism and sex offences.

The Mount, a training and resettlement prison, has long had a rugby tradition and has been involved in local leagues for decades – with a hiatus that ended in 2019.

Physical education supervising officer Stephen Fitzsimmons, said rugby had a long tradition at the institution.

“Mount rugby have won numerous awards including a president’s award from the Rugby Football Union, which is ironic.” he said.

Fitzsimmons said because the rules of the sport were alien to many, it acted as a great “leveller.”

“I tell them ‘I am Fitz, not guvnor, when we step over that white line’.

“They are more like rabbits in the headlights when they start playing. They can be cocky and the next minute they are on their backside,” he added.

“The rugby programme is massively important as the ethos of the sport serves them really well. It is adding another layer,”

‘Positive actions’

For Sam Cload, the Get Onside project manager, the aim is to help prisoners make the right choices as they focus on the future.

He said he could empathise with the prisoners as he was on a “slippery slope as a young fellow.”

“Once you are in trouble it is hard to right the ship again,” said Cload, who joined the project in 2019.

“I want to offer something positive to people who perhaps have made the wrong choice and now need help to start making the right choices again.”

Dein, once one of the most powerful figures in English football, has praised the work taking place at the prison, situated in the leafy commuter belt about 40km from London.

“The exceptional work taking place at The Mount exemplifies the Twinning Project’s belief that sport really can change lives for the better,” he said in a statement.

The project is not just about rugby – it also involves bringing in experts to teach prisoners about how to prepare job applications and there are topical discussions before training.

Cload posts a maxim on the whiteboard before the discussions.

“I put up the saying ‘you are the sum of the first five people you meet’ to say to them if they are five positive people you will take positive actions,” he said.

“For someone released, there is a short timeframe before they fall back among old groups of people they hung out with before and who are a bad influence.”

Cload said he wanted those released to come to the club afterwards and carry on working with them.

One example is Oz, who became involved in the programme while at a young offenders’ institution, which is where the project began in 2011.

Oz, in his 20s, who asked to be referred to only by that name, served three years of a six-year sentence for grievous bodily harm and money laundering.

He is now a project mentor and sits on the project steering group as an advisor.

He said the programme had served him well.

“Maybe in regular jail life you would not mix together but this [rugby] you have to have each others’ backs,” he said.

“This teaches you in applying values of rugby to everyday lives outside of prison like humility, respect, honesty and teamwork.

“Those are the pillars.”


  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to launch a travel bubble allowing transit between Cambodia and 12 other regional countries in a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector amid crushing impact of the ongoing spread of Covid-19, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on

  • Kingdom accepts Chinese vaccine, PM first to get jab

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company. In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • Quarantine site in north Phnom Penh inaugurated

    A four-building quarantine centre in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district was formally inaugurated on January 6. The centre can house up to 500 people, according to Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng. At the inauguration ceremony, Sreng said the municipal hall had cooperated with the Ministry

  • ‘Beware of WhatsApp fraudsters’

    The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications warned members of the public who use WhatsApp to vigilantly guard against a new trick employed by hackers that involves the use of six-digit codes sent to potential victims via the popular messaging app. The ministry said hackers could