20 August 2012
Ireland are determined to bring home the trophy from the Homeless World Cup in October – but for the players who have made the team, it's also a stepping stone on the road to recovery.
“Over the last 10 years we have seen overwhelming evidence of the benefits of football and the street league in changing the lives of lads,” says Seán Kavanagh, founder of the Irish Street League and manager of the Homeless World Cup team. “Being involved in the street league has restored their sense of self worth and provided the incentive to move on. Many of our lads have gone back to college, got jobs and homes, and are in steady relationships, and have managed to stay clean if there are issues of addiction. That’s why this league is so important.”
Garret Lynch is one of the players selected. He has spent years in prison but in the last 12 months, he's turned his life around. “I got involved in crime at a very early age,” says Garret. “I was always in trouble. By the age of 16, I was sent to prison for 16 months, and when I got out I was soon in again. My life had been that way ever since.”
Garret's mother died when he was 21, and unable to cope, he started using drugs – cocaine, crack and heroin. “I couldn’t handle it, and went off the rails completely,” he admits. “It was either take drugs or kill myself, so I took drugs.”
Two years ago, Garret determined to change. “I realised that my two children only knew me from inside the walls of a prison,” he says, “and I thought, I can’t do this anymore.” He sought help while still in prison, and by the time he was released, was already on the road to recovery.
It hasn’t been easy but with support from ACRG (Aftercare Recovery Support Group) in Sheriff St, Garret has managed to get his life in order. Playing football has also been a huge plus “When I heard about the street league I decided to get involved. Football is now a really big part of my recovery, and keeps me going.” He can now visualise a future and, like many of the lads in the street league, is planning to go into coaching next year.
Another player, Wayne Reid, is also planning his future, and going to college to study web-design: “Everything has changed for me. My thinking is clearer and I know what I want. I have ambition and drive now. I have wasted enough of my life so I’m going to make up for it now.”
Paul Fitzsimons is also in recovery, but is determined to look forward now: “Two years ago I was on the streets, and now I’m going to Mexico.”
“I cannot emphasise enough the benefits of the street league,” says coach Mick Pender, who has been involved with every team since the inaugural Homeless World Cup in 2003. “They’re able to go back to their families and say – look, I was picked to represent Ireland – and they’re walking around with their heads held high. So from being in a position where they cannot face life, these guys achieve something special. That gives them self respect. It’s the first step on a long road to recovery for a lot of them.”
The street league has always struggled with funding but it does receive a small grant from the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) plus funding from sponsors and individual donations.
– Jennifer May
To donate to the Irish Street League or get more information, go to: www.irishstreetleague.com