Paddy Maloney started playing with Street Soccer in 2020 after hearing about sessions from programme manager in Edinburgh, Robbie Wood, and despite being part of football sessions almost every week, he never imagined he’d be pulling on a Team Scotland shirt at a World Cup – especially as an Irishman.
He reflects on what he describes as ‘the greatest experience’ of his life, now three months post Sacramento, where this year’s Homeless World Cup was held.
“It was a brilliant experience. To meet so many new people, all on a similar journey, it was incredible”, he said. “Being there and having the chance to be a team, playing football in a wonderful environment, it allows you to take your mind off things. I think that had a similar effect for most of our team.
It was life-changing. The set-up exceeded all my expectations. All the support we received from even the referees and opposition as well, it was just unbelievable, really welcoming.”
Paddy has been open about his past mental health struggles and as a regular of sessions at Portobello in Edinburgh, he was delighted to learn that he would be part of the Team Scotland squad going to California. Despite going over with an open-mind, he believes the tournament has changed his perspective and allowed him to progress with a positive mindset.
“You felt ten-foot tall coming off of that pitch but it was about more than the football. After the first few games, you sort of realised that it wasn’t about football at all, you just embraced that once in a lifetime opportunity.
It’s really changed my perspective. It’s lifted me into a really positive place and I feel great. I feel like I’ve achieved something special. Having the opportunity to play for Scotland at a World Cup, wow. It’s been a total buzz since I’ve came back. I’ve struggled in the past with my mental health but I am in a really happy place. Its changed everything for me.”
Paddy was one of seven players who represented Street Soccer and Team Scotland. Despite being twice the age of some of the players, he enjoyed the responsibility of guiding the team both on and off the pitch.
“Being the oldest member of the team, I did feel it was important to look out for some of the younger boys, supporting them at all points and just giving them a bit of guidance if they needed it.
I’ve been a player for Street Soccer for about three years and it’s like a family to me. Everything the organisation has done for me is unbelievable. It’s really showed me that even in bad times, you can use something like football as the hook to lift you.”
He mentions that returning to sessions in the capital has been great, with team-mates in his ear asking about the experience. Delighted with the progress in his personal life, he believes that the power of football has taken him to places he never thought he could reach – both figuratively and literally.
“Having the support I’ve had both on and off the pitch is really amazing. If I could put my mind to something, I can do it – Street Soccer has shown me that.
I would also like to thank our sponsors, Burness Paull, Malcolm Group and Rhino Express for allowing us to make the most of the opportunity in Sacramento as well as the Scottish FA who gave the boys a special experience before we left. It’s all been an important part of a life-changing experience.”
Find out more about Team Scotland and the opportunities available, online.