“Football always surprises me”

Ruth Boyle is a Derry Girl.

In between the riots that blighted Northern Ireland during the troubles, she was always found with a ball at her feet.

Now, 12 months on from her experience as a player, she’s back helping coach the Northern Ireland women’s team.

She said: “A tournament like this teaches you so much more than just football skills. The girls have taken a few real knocks with results, so they’ve been learning about resilience in bucketloads. This group of girls aren’t natural footballers, so to get a win yesterday was worth it all. They came here scared and nervous.

“Last year was an amazing experience going over to Mexico. There were a lot of ups and downs, but I learned a lot of new skills, including how to deal with my own emotions as well as other people’s.

“Football always surprises me. I can’t believe how much it’s teaching me. I’ve been playing it since I was knee high, and it’s just amazing how it can educate and empower you in ways I never thought were possible.

“I spent most of my teenage years in and out of trouble, and I went to prison. I’m not proud of that and I’m very remorseful for what I’ve done, but in there I decided it was time to change my life.

“I moved out of Derry, which was very hard to do given I grew up there, but I knew I had to break the circle I was running around with.

“Years down the line, I got involved with Street Soccer NI. When I was living in Derry, I was signed to a local team, but then I never thought I’d get involved in football again. I always wanted to get involved again, but I never thought I was fit enough or if it was even possible—but thankfully it was.

“I now coach children, so it’s about breaking down the stereotypes of what homelessness is. I don’t fit into a criteria, nor should I have to fit into one either.

“When I was younger, I was always seen with a ball at my feet, and it’s become my life again. I’m now looking at what I’m eating, what I’m drinking, what medications etc. because I’m always looking to improve myself and set an example. I’m trying to become the best coach I can be, and that begins with setting standards and expectations of myself.

For the former Institute and Derry City player, there was a moment her outlook changed.

“I was in a park walking the dog with my friend, and there was a girl I coach there with her dad. He shouted to her ‘There’s your coach’ and was waving, but I was looking around me. So in that moment I wasn’t Ruth who was homeless or Ruth who was away in Mexico with the Homeless World Cup, I was just Ruth her coach.

“It’s been amazing working with the two Claires, and I’d said if I could be a coach like them I’d be happy. The thing is, they’ve told me that I have so much to give myself, so just be you. Yes, take what we’re doing, but be true to yourself.

“It’s mad that by bringing a ball into the equation, we’re breaking barriers and stigmas about all the issues related to homelessness. Just this week we’ve had conversations about drug and alcohol misuse and things like sexual and mental health, so football is a lot more powerful than just the result.

“When you become a coach, it’s not just at the weekend or two nights a week. It’s a lifestyle. It becomes the motivating factor in your family, it’s helping your friends, it influences everything you do.”

Words: David Brockett
Images: Paul Bence / Soda-Visual