Having never visited Scotland before, Gatans Lag players Robert and Joanna are excited to meet players from all nations at the Street Soccer Nations Cup, with Team Sweden having first place in their sights.
Robert, who has been with Gatans Lag for almost a year, believes that the experience of the event in Dundee will be a proud moment for him and his family.
“I was in aftercare from a twelve step recovery programme and made friends who invited me along to experience the Gatans Lag football programme. I used to play football in my younger years and I understand the importance of training. When you are alone, you tend to forget how little you can do yourself, so when I came along, I felt energy. I felt how important it was to join forces and be part of a team.
Coming away from this tournament, I will be extremely proud of what I have achieved. I am already bragging about it and not keeping it a secret as we’ve had enough of shame and fear in our lives. This will be a massive achievement.”
He highlights that engaging with Gatans Lag felt like ‘coming home’ after returning to football, where he played for 12 years in his younger years.
“Being part of the programme has helped my recovery in many ways. It’s a safe spot. We get to know everyone here. There is no shame, there is acceptance of who you are. Sometimes you need to start from scratch again, so it’s like you have to experience growing up again and the guys here help me do that. There is a real structure round the programme and routine, which helps in every day life. Not only is it important to have routine, but also one I am looking forward to!”
Robert’s team-mate, Joanna, was due to be part of the women’s team in Dundee until the doctor confirmed a cruel injury to her cruciate ligament. Following this news, Joanna was offered a coaching role with the team and believes this is another big milestone on her journey with Gatans Lag that started eighteen months ago.
“When I first engaged, I need a stronger support network. I needed to be drug-free and felt I needed a community around me to aid my recovery. Since I started to engage with the programme, I have stayed drug-free. In Gatans Lag, we have a real focus on helping others, so being able to help others when they are first starting their journey, taking that responsibility and being a role model – that has really benefitted me.
The fact I am still part of the team, despite the injury, makes me really excited for coming to Scotland. I think having this responsibility will be great for me. The exercise from football and the training around it, alongside the structure, routine and socialising, is what kept me from drugs. Now, although I am unable to take part, I can adapt and it’s important to do that so I can progress on my recovery journey.”
Joanna highlights the fact that this achievement would not have been possible previously, with her confidence and communication skills drastically improving since coming to Gatans Lag. She underlines that football has a special power of bringing people together.
“I wasn’t confident beforehand, I thought I couldn’t be myself without the drugs but being part of the community has helped that. I have learned a lot in the last 18 months. I find that football is a brilliant way of breaking down barriers. People are open and friendly and will always cheer for you. I have never been to Scotland, but I know this tournament will be great fun.”
Both players are excited for experiences both on and off the pitch when they arrive in Scotland, with Robert noting that the four-a-side format makes for exciting viewing.
“Previously, we had some small sided football experience with the Nordics and that’s all I have really experienced so far but the style of football is fun. Very fast, very high scoring and great adrenaline from the games.”
Joanna added that her involvement in a similar tournament in Holland last year only adds to the spectacle for the upcoming tournament.
“It means a lot to be part of the team. I love all my team-mates. Everyone is so nice and I want them to have the best time. I experienced a tournament in Holland last summer and it was one of the best times of my life – I just want the same for the team in Scotland.”
With the inaugural Street Soccer Nations Cup now just a week away, both players are looking forward to meeting players from Street Football programmes from across the globe. Robert alludes to the fact that events such as these helps build players back up after their hardships.
“I have gotten further in my last 18 months, sober without drink and drugs, than I ever have before that. It can often be difficult when you feel de-humanised and I think that when you can get a collective of people from similar backgrounds, it really helps create change. This event will be a great example of that.”
The Street Soccer Nations Cup will be free to attend in Dundee from September 9th to 11th. You can find out about how to get involved here.