Gary found a safe space at Street Soccer sessions during a turbulent time of his life and was later given the chance to captain Team Scotland at a Homeless World Cup. He’s now keen to support the squad travelling to Sacramento by reflecting on his own experience.
Selected to represent the national team at the 2019 tournament in Cardiff, Gary underlines how the experience of the Homeless World Cup has helped his own positive change journey.
“The Homeless World Cup left an incredible impact on me. Coming away from that summer, my self-esteem shot up. I felt a lot better about who I was and how I viewed myself. That’s helped me throughout all aspects of my life.”
After joining Street Soccer sessions in 2017, he illustrates how building a football family in Glasgow helped him on his recovery journey.
“I was in and out of hostels in Glasgow and with bouncing about at that time, with nothing to do, I had to focus on football as my constant in life. I came across Street Soccer through Ross and it became a daily routine for me. I would have my Street Soccer sessions during the day and recovery meeting at night, it helped me build structure in my life.
A big part of my addiction and alcohol issues was that you never knew what was coming the next day but with Street Soccer it was great to have that routine. Football has been an escape all my life but I started to associate it with drink and drugs and the social events that came through football. Street Soccer became a safe space where I can transfer my energy and use football to change my life.”
With daily football sessions, Gary was afforded the opportunity to take part in the trials process for the 2019 Homeless World Cup squad. After progressing through this process, he was announced as men’s captain during a residential trip prior to travelling to Wales.
“We went away on a residential weekend to Callander and I found out that I was captain. That brough a sort of expectation but immense pride.
Naturally, I think I’m a bit of a leader and at that point in 2019, I had a good part of my recovery behind me, so I was learning a bit more about looking after myself, figuring out my triggers and traumas and that helped me support other members of the team. I was gravitating towards younger members of the team to help them with the experience and take the pressure off them.”
The Homeless World Cup invites over 50 member nations to be part of a life-changing tournament, which helps break down social barriers and challenge stigmas. Gary believes that by using football as a common language, he built connections with players worldwide.
“Everything about the experience was amazing. I still stay in touch with so many people, some from Northern Ireland, some from India. It’s just incredible the relationships you can create, all through football. Everybody is in the same boat, the camaraderie is massive. You’ve all experienced homelessness or addiction or something and you’ve been touched by the same things so despite the language barriers, you can build strong connections. There’s no hierarchy, you are all in the same position.”
By feeling part of that wider football family, Gary has used his experience as a foundation for change and now gives back to the community by using lived experience.
“I have managed to use all the adverse experiences prior to the World Cup and switched it, I have channelled this in to my life and I’ve not touched a drink or a drug in years. I’m able to cope with my triggers and deal with my traumas. That’s all because of Street Soccer and the level of support I received through the years.
These experiences have helped me progress, where I am now in a job helping others. I am part of a managed alcohol programme where I am helping others daily, it’s something I love doing.”
Despite moving on to full-time work, Gary tries to engage with Street Soccer programmes as often as possible and highlights the impact that the team in Glasgow have had on him.
“I still stay in touch with all the Street Soccer as often as I can. The Glasgow team create such a tight-knit community where we can help find support for all of the Street Soccer family. I’m here today just to visit and I’m already seeing so many faces that I can connect with. It’s hard not to still not feel connected to Street Soccer!
Every time I have days off work, my first thought is ‘wonder what’s happening at Street Soccer’, the pull that the programmes and stuff have here is amazing and its down to the people.”
As a former Scotland captain, Gary is excited to support the team in the States from afar, and urges prospective players to appreciate the value of the group.
“For those playing with Team Scotland this year, my one bit of advice is to check on your team-mates but because you are all in it together. We found it really valuable to stay connected and share how we were feeling every single day. Sometimes you just need to take a step back to appreciate where you are and the incredible feeling that you are all sharing together.”