Marko Arnautovic expresses sympathy for Londons knife-attack victims

Marko Arnautovic expresses sympathy for London\s knife-attack victims

Marko Arnautovic: West Ham striker on London knife crime & avoiding easy path to trouble

West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic says memories of childhood friends being sent to prison are behind his attempt to guide young people away from knife crime.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan claims it will take 10 years to solve knife crime in the city – with five people, including three teenagers, being killed in the space of a week.

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The Austria forward says he could have followed an “easy” path into trouble during his childhood in a tough area of Vienna.

Striker Arnautovic spoke out as West Ham launched their Players Project initiative to aid the local community

West Hams Marko Arnautovic begs young fans not to join knife crime epidemic

Now the “kid who was not listening a lot” wants his voice to be heard – through West Hams new Players Project, in which the club will invest £10m over three years and every squad member is given a specific community project to work on.

Hammers vice-chairman Karren Brady has pledged to provide tangible evidence of the positive impact the club has had in 12 months time.

“I had a lot of friends who were also football players,” Arnautovic told BBC Sport. “Some of them ended up in prison. I think – of my group of friends – I am the only one who is a professional footballer.

“Some guys, when they dont see talent in themselves, they take this way because it is easy. But you get hard punishment. You are playing with your life.”

“Social media has changed a lot of things. People look at what is on Instagram and say they want money, they want this, they want that. Then they start selling drugs. It shouldnt be like this.”

The Office of National Statistics has said knife crime across England and Wales rose by 22% in 2017.

Arnautovic acknowledges the challenge of tackling those statistics, but says “everyone is trying to change this [knife crime] around”.

“When I was young, if you had some problems you dealt with it with your hands. No-one had a knife,” said Arnautovic, who has two young daughters.

“Now it has changed. There are a lot of mafia movies that show you are a tough guy when you put something in your pocket. But it is very dangerous.

“If one of those friends tries to change, talk to him. If he still tries to change, go away from him. It is not the right thing to go through the bad way.”

West Ham Marko Arnautovic has described his own escape from teenage street crime as he expressed heartbreak for the youngsters caught up in a knife-attack epidemic sweeping London.

The West Ham United striker, speaking after a week of bloodshed that saw five victims – including three teenagers – stabbed to death on the capitals streets – said the crimewave had struck a chord because some of his friends growing up in Austria had ended up in prison.

Arnautovic, speaking at the launch of a club community project which sees him meet up with disadvantaged local schoolchildren, believes the problem with street crime has been fuelled by the rise of social media. "When I was little, I didnt always have the best time," he said, describing how his friends were often in trouble. "Some of them ended up in prison," he said.

When asked whether he could have gone down the same path, he added: "Of course, it can happen to everyone. Like now, when you see the social media. That has changed a lot of things. People look at Instagram and say they want money, they want this, they want that. Then they start selling drugs and selling this and that. It shouldnt be the target to sell drugs and to go the bad way."  

Football saved him, he said. "For me it was all to do with football. I wanted to always be there where I am [now] and I gave everything. My father, my mother, my whole family, they saw the talent in me and then they kept working on me because I wanted it so badly."

Arnautovic is still only 29, but says the streets are tougher now than when he was a boy in Vienna. "It has changed a lot," he said. "Before, back in the day when I was young, when you had some problems you dealt with it with your hands. No-one had a knife. Now it has changed. I think there are a lot of mafia movies that show that maybe you are a tough guy when you put something in your pocket. But it is very dangerous. I just give advice to stay away from that, stay with your friends who are close to you."

West Ham, which has invested £13m across education, health and social mobility projects since 2013, says it is now committing to invest a further £10 million over the next three years as part of the Players Project, the most ambitious community programme created by a Premier League club. As well as vulnerable youngsters, the club says it is working with the elderly, unemployed and disabled.

Karren Brady, the clubs vice-chairwoman, said at the launch: "Over the coming weeks and months you will see them manning food banks, visiting lonely people in our community, tackling the serious issues of obesity and diabetes and finding out how we can help turn the tide of knife crime that is the curse of not only Newham, but London too."

Arnautovic, who netted the opener in a 4-2 win against Burnley last Saturday, is looking to maintain his scoring form as West Ham travel to Huddersfield on Saturday. Robert Snodgrass is the latest potential injury doubt due to an ongoing ankle problem.

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