“Football was the turning point”

Mexico City, Poznań, Santiago, Amsterdam, Glasgow, Oslo, and now Cardiff: street soccer goalkeeper turned coach Marius Pazemechas from Lithuania is fast becoming a Homeless World Cup veteran. Standing before me with his big-hearted smile he shares a bit more about his pre-Homeless World Cup experience.

“I hadn’t been sober for 15 years. It started like it does for many people. I drank when I was at school. At first maybe just a little, every year more, more, more. When I was in my 30s, I tried to stop—therapy, AA meetings, Minnesota programme.”

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped millions of people suffering from alcohol addiction to create better lives for themselves without alcohol. It isn’t run by clinics, doctors, or psychologists—it’s run by and for people with alcohol addiction, with meetings taking place in nations all across the world. The Minnesota model is an individualised treatment method based on a person’s addiction concerns. The family of the individual is asked to actively participate in the treatment, and psychiatrists play an important role throughout the rehabilitation process.

“I tried five times to get sober. My wife wanted to divorce me. My wife said to me maybe 100 times that she wanted to divorce. I always thought alcohol was not the main problem for me. Losing family, job, house—but always I thought it wasn’t the alcoholism, that it was the boss, my wife, the other people, it was them who were the problem not me. I understood that it was my last opportunity, being on the street, being homeless, next step will be I die.

“Football was the turning point. I found the Lithuanian football team supporting addicts who I started playing with in 2012 after my first year of not drinking, so Mexico was my first Homeless World Cup. I knew I wanted to come every year, so I became the team’s coach. I have not been drinking ’til today and have been with the team for six years.”

 

FK Feniksas (FC Phoenix) is the Homeless World Cup’s partner in Lithuania. The organisation uses the power of football to help people who suffer from substance abuse integrate back into society. According to the latest World Health Organisation data, Lithuanians are the world’s heaviest drinkers, with the largest population of alcohol addicts per capita.

“I have been playing football since I was a child. I went to sport school and am an ex-professional goalkeeper in Lithuania. I always liked being the goalkeeper because in football there are 11 players but only one goalkeeper. I was the team’s goalkeeper in Mexico. In 2012, after the Homeless World Cup, back in Lithuania I started college studying social work. I graduated when I was 50. I started to work in shelters with homeless people and now I am working with people with addiction. The motivation for all of this was the Homeless World Cup,” Pazemechas says.

“I feel very lucky that I can help people, with troubles, troubles with alcohol. The reality is that only 10%, 20% of alcoholics make it. But it is worth it. I bring with the team this time from the shelter two people who I really believe will stop and be sober.”

Words: Deborah May
Images: Daniel Lipinski / Soda-Visual