Few football teams can say they've never had a player sent off.

But the Keighley Sky Blues can proudly say they've never had a caution in five years of footballing.

What is more, the team is made up of probationers, reformed offenders and young people on the verge of crime. They use football as a vehicle for putting their lives back together and 're-joining' society.

The team - a mixture of players from their mid-teens to early 30s from Keighley and Bradford - is unique. Nowhere else in the country do the authorities use football to rehabilitate offenders.

The Sky Blues were formed five years ago by football-mad probation workers Terry Roberts and Henryk Kubala. They saw soccer as an ideal way of improving the behaviour of offenders, as well as keeping them fit and out of trouble.

Every Friday morning at Marley field, the 20-strong squad gathers for a match and a talk about social skills and behaviour.

The side is picked not according to skill or ability, but attitude and behaviour, in an effort to steer the players away from a life of crime, drugs and troublemaking.

"There's no room for a Paul Gascoigne or Denis Bergkamp," explains Terry. "Their attitude is wrong.

"We will not tolerate bad behaviour. Some of the lads think playing football is a soft option. It's not. We do not allow swearing, smoking, drinking, or racist or sexist comments.

"We do not tolerate cheating or bad mouthing the ref, and we will take a player off if we think he is not trying," Terry adds.

The result is a team more disciplined than any Sunday League side, and even some professional teams.

You will not find a Sky Blue kicking lumps out of the opposition, or giving anything less than 100 per cent on the field.

It does, however, take a lot of effort to turn the group into a team.

Thrashings into double figures were not unusual at first, but now the team regularly runs out winners against local solicitors, magistrates, and community sides.

Many players join the team at a low ebb - after a brush with the law, a spell in prison, or possibly recovering from drug addiction. The kickabouts are the highlight of their week.

Ian was on the fringes of criminal activities in Bracken Bank, when youth workers suggested he joined the team.

Twelve months later he says: "I mainly came down for the football, but I have found my behaviour has really improved since coming down here. It has been a real bonus."

David is the team's longest-serving player. Before joining he was regularly in trouble with the police because crime was 'the thing to do'.

Five years on he has turned full circle and works as a volunteer with the probation service and shares his experience and knowledge with others.

"I used to look forward to the football every week," he says. "It was fun, but also hard work. It gave me self-confidence, social skills, and took my mind off other things.

"Now I try to pass on the same things I picked up to others, which will hopefully be useful and stop them getting into the same situations I was in."

Ian and David's stories are not untypical - the team's success rate is impressive and much more effective than prison. Three out of four footballers do not offend again after a spell with the Sky Blues. At a cost of £2,200 for the squad over a season, that has to be money well spent.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.