This weekend, National Lottery-funded Street Football Wales play in the Homeless World Cup in Mexico. Goalkeeper Chris Dowling, who was selected for the last tournament in Paris has pulled off some magnificent saves on and off the pitch. When the 32-year-old first signed up to Street Football Wales four years ago, he was sleeping rough in Swansea and suffering serious alcohol addiction. His battle with the bottle was so severe that he needed to drink during a match – sudden withdrawal could have killed him:
I was drinking alcohol under the supervision of staff in a controlled way in order to keep myself safe. This helped me realise that harm reduction was possible. My alcoholism triggered seizures, but, despite sometimes suffering attacks during match days I continued to play football for my team. Thanks to football, I’ve successfully reduced my drinking from daily to occasional, my physical appearance has improved dramatically and so has my performance in goal.
Then after managing my alcohol addiction for several months, I was called up to represent Wales at an overseas football tournament where I was named most improved player and player of the tournament after my team won 13 out of 16 matches – I had three clean sheets. Selectors said I was picked because of my “incredible” determination over four years with Street Football Wales.
This determination was tested just before the start of the tournament when I received the devastating news of the death of my dad and a childhood friend who had been like a brother to me on the streets. Through my grief I remained in control of my alcohol addiction. I’ve now got my own flat and I’m really proud of myself and others have said it’s testament to my hard work and determination.
I have a new found love of life and I enjoy showing others how great Street Football Wales is. It proves that changes can be made regardless of the size of the challenge faced.
Editor’s note: Thanks to an award of £172,520 from the National Lottery Community Fund, the Street Football Wales programme is creating a Wales-wide street football network for homeless or socially excluded people. The project will be delivered by a local non-profit organisation in Swansea, Gwalia Care and Support, who work with a wide range of people with different support needs right across Wales.