THE most incredible part of Michail Antonio witnessing a stabbing is that he was not shocked by it.
That was the way of life in the gang-infested part of South London where Antonio grew up.
The West Ham winger said: “A couple of my friends were stabbed to death, a couple were shot but didn’t die. I’ve seen someone get stabbed. I’ve seen it all.
“It gets crazy. But when I was younger, it was the norm.
“You heard that someone got stabbed and the reaction would be, ‘Okay, he got stabbed’, then you would walk off.
“It wasn’t a massive shock, you would ask if he was okay, then it would be no problem — that was the conversation.”
Antonio grew up in Earlsfield near where the Stick ’Em Up Kids and Terror Zone gangs operated — but he went down a different path to the Premier League via Tooting & Mitcham FC.
And he is helping 19 youngsters pursue sport and education at the Michail Antonio and GMFC Football Education Centre, where pupils get a BTEC along with playing youth football.
The 27-year-old knows how tough it is for kids to stay away from violence and drugs, as he was approached by gangs at school.
Antonio said: “My school had three gangs. I’m a strong boy and grew up fighting, I was always able to fight.
“And every crew wants a fighter. Everyone knew I could fight so it would have been an easy option.
“That life is so easy to fall into because when you are younger all you want to do is make money and meet girls.
“When you are young, the majority of girls want bad boys, who have money.
“How do you get money when you are at school? There is only one way.
“I never believed in that way, I always wanted to be a footballer.”
The classroom for Antonio’s pupils is under an archway in Battersea, at the Guy Mascolo Football Charity.
And he makes sure youngsters can see he is there supporting them.
He added: “I want to be the person they see and know me as a professional footballer who came from this area and know that if they dream it, they can believe it.
“If they believe it, they can do it. If they physically see me and talk to me, they know it is do-able.
“I grew up in this area and it is so easy to be a sheep. It’s so easy to follow someone else.
“People say there is no ‘I’ in team but I want to start putting the ‘I’ there because, when you think of yourself, you want the best for your life.
“But it is easy to get caught up in other people’s way of life and forget about what you want to achieve for yourself. I want them to step away when they need to.”
Some of the boys are attached to clubs and playing in the top youth league in London will help. But they are also preparing for life without pro football by studying.
Antonio said: “Everyone knows the story of my mum telling me not to sign for Tottenham.
“At the time I didn’t think it was the right thing but now I believe it was. I have a BTEC and it has given me the opportunity to learn first before going into football.
“If I didn’t make it at 18, Southfields Academy had offered me a chance to be a PE teacher and I was planning to go to uni.
“I had those opportunities because of my education.
“I want to tell these guys that as much as football is your target, you can always have other steps just in case you don’t make it.”
On the pitch, Antonio is hoping life stays quiet at West Ham.
Monday’s win over Huddersfield earned the Hammers their first points of the season and eased the pressure on boss Slaven Bilic.
Antonio added: “When you are not winning at West Ham, it explodes.
“Fans explode, the chairman explodes, the manager explodes . . . the whole thing erupts.
“When you win, it goes quiet. It’s mellow and things are going well.”
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