West Ham United, Charlton, Leyton Orient and Millwall, together with the Government and seven local authorities, have started an ambitious project aimed at tackling social exclusion and re-engaging young people in the community.
They hope to help more than 2,000 young people in the first year.
The Thames Gateway area is one of the most deprived in Britain. In some parts one in four adults is unemployed and the area contains some of the poorest council wards in the country.
The initiative was officially launched by Tony Banks, former minister of sport.
At Upton Park, home of West Ham United, he was joined for a match against participating young people by Kris Akabusi, former Olympic medalist, and actors from The Bill, EastEnders and Casualty.
The initiative includes a coaching programme delivered by the Professional Footballers' Association which allows 17 to 19-year-olds a chance to gain national vocational qualications and football association qualifications. The organisers hope it will provide genuine job opportunities.
Another programme has been specially designed for young offenders, aged 15 to 19, referred to the scheme by the probation service, providing football coaching and social education.
For younger children there are after-school clubs and coaching sessions on local estates, as well as a truancy programme with academic and sporting tuition.