In 10 days’ time Yeung Kong Hung, sporting the number nine jersey for Hong Kong, will celebrate his 36th birthday. It’s a date that, up until very recently, he couldn’t have imagined reaching.
“I was a drug addict. I started taking drugs after my elder son, Siu Hei, passed away. He was four years old.
“My son was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of three, so during that year when he was dying my whole family was torn apart.”
Fourteen years ago Yeung’s life was, he recalls, very normal. “I was part of a regular family with a wife and child and I had a job. But when my son passed away I started having a problem with insomnia and couldn’t sleep. That’s why I started taking drugs. I really regret that decision now because it didn’t really help me at all.
“After Siu died I was very sad and couldn’t focus on doing anything. My job became very unstable because of my mental state and the drugs. Many of my family members and friends were disgusted with me because I was not working, taking drugs, and not having a proper family.”
Yeung’s relationship with illegal substances lasted for 12 years, from the time his son passed away to the day he was arrested, in 2017, for being in possession of and under the influence of drugs. After being charged, the Hong Kong court put him in a rehabilitation centre where he has lived until now.
“But I was very lucky because my wife, Ching Yan, never left me and always encouraged me to get better,” he adds quietly.
While at the centre, social workers encouraged him to take up a sport, so he started playing football with others detained there. A social worker then referred Yeung to the trials for the Hong Kong team.
“I took part in the trial last year for Mexico but I wasn’t successful—I was the back-up,” he explains. “If any of the eight had been unable to go then I would have had a place, but nobody dropped out.
“I worked very hard last year—100% to all the training—and I didn’t get picked so there was a time I was upset. But although I didn’t get to go to Mexico, during that period of the training I noticed that my physical condition and mental state improved a lot. The players who got to go and those who didn’t continued to play football together, so there was a community of support so I didn’t feel alone in not being able to go.
“We kept on playing football together and I don’t feel my life was empty any more. This year when the trials started again, the players who were in the team last year got in touch and encouraged me to participate this year.”
This time Yeung made the cut and joined the final eight to come to Cardiff. But he’s at pains to point out it’s not just coming to participate in Homeless World Cup itself that makes a difference, it’s everything that comes before.
“During these three to four months none of the members can have any bad habits, including smoking. We have a support community that we can talk to—people who have similar experiences. So the whole programme is very helpful to people and I am very grateful.
“I feel very happy now. The whole experience of training and then coming to Homeless World Cup has taught me that every time I do something I need to be determined, I need to keep doing the right thing.
“Yes, last year when I wasn’t successful. I was upset. But then I learned that I need to continue trying. When you make a decision, you need to make the right decision. If you choose the wrong path, it’s very difficult to go back.”
Once back in Hong Kong with his prized jersey and memories of friendships forged, Yeung wants to ensure he continues to do the right thing and get back to having the life he had nearly fifteen years ago.
“I also want to share my experience with those going through the same difficulties because in the drug rehabilitation centre I have a lot of friends and a lot of them can’t remove drugs from their lives. So I want to go back and invite them to play football together so they can have something to focus on and get back to a normal life.”
More than that, Yeung has one special, overwhelming reason to keep doing the right thing.
“When my wife mentioned having another baby, it was just before I got arrested and it made me determined to go back to having a normal life.
“I now have a two-year-old son, Ka Lok, and it is because of him that I was determined to get away from drugs, to get my life back on track, and do the right thing for all of us.”
Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: Daniel Lipinski / Soda-Visual