Football shows power of sport to change lives

28 September 2018 | North West England

John Finnegan

The homeless football club helping men and women face a better future

It started with a friendly kickabout one Tuesday afternoon, but has grown into a football league helping hundreds of people and transforming lives.

Liverpool Homeless FC was born when residents of three homeless hostels got together to play football.

John Finnigan, who worked at one of the hostels involved, remembers the positive impact a simple game of football had on the men, many of whom had been sleeping rough.

After the game was repeated the next week, and then the next, John began to notice a radical change in the mood and behaviour of those taking part.

He recalled: “The lads were on such a high the next day. Then for three days before the next game they wouldn’t get involved in any antisocial behaviour, because they wanted to be there to play, and play well.

“I realised I’d found a way to engage these men and which had the power to help them turn their lives around.”

John started calling round other hostels and shelters in the Liverpool region, inviting them to join a unique league for men in the same situation - and Liverpool Homeless Football Club was born.

Today, eleven years later, 24 hostels from across Merseyside are involved in monthly tournaments, with at least 150 men playing football in teams across two divisions.

Alongside football, John and his team give advice and support to beat addiction, improve health, and find housing, jobs and training.

The project’s successful outcomes prove that people helping people is a good thing for all of us.

John said: “I really believe in the power of sport to change people. It gives our lads something to focus on, taking their minds off the things that have held them back.

“We’re a small organisation but the outcomes we’ve seen are massive. Many arrived with their lives falling apart and today are in education or employment.”

One of the men who owe their lives to the initiative is Andy Copeland, who was sleeping rough on the streets of Birkenhead with a serious drugs problem.

He said taking part in the football tournament helped him as he embarked on a rehabilitation programme.

He said: “I got kicked out of my family home and was on the streets.

“The football is great because you are active and busy and it takes your mind off things.”

Now a community interest company with Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop as their patron, among many other projects the organisation runs is a football project for women, many of whom have found themselves in shelters because of domestic abuse.

John, 56, said: “Many of these women would associate football with abuse, as their partners would come home after Liverpool or Everton lost and beat them up.

“So we decided to focus on the fun element of football, instead of the competitive. The women come and have fun knocking the ball around, make friends and open up. We are now working with more than 40 vulnerable women.

“We also have a women’s futsal team, and sometimes take them out on ‘walk and talk’ trips, with a counsellor and therapist, when they can relax and chat while exploring beautiful scenery.

“Again, we’ve seen many lives turned around. Everything starts with football, but what we do is much more than just football.”

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