“Replacing my Drug Addiction with a Football Addiction”

Day 2 of the Homeless World Cup: the temperature has dropped, the rain is relentless, but energies stay high, especially those of 22-year-old footballer Linnea Blomberg from Stavanger Norway who is ecstatic after her team’s most recent win. Blomberg’s journey here, however, hasn’t been without its challenges. Over a hot ‘kakao’, the young Norweigan goalkeeper generously shares her street soccer story.

“I started using drugs when I was 12–13 … It started with weed and then went to pills to needles. I was living in a bag for a while, sleeping round at friends’. I don’t have a lot of family, which means that when I get friends, I get really attached to them because I need a family. That is why this football team means so incredibly much to me.

“I have been to rehab many times because I am a former drug addict, and after the last round in treatment I came out and had no friends or network. Someone I knew in rehab told me about the street soccer team about four years ago. Then I came out and tried it. I thought: Okay, it is a place to begin with new people and make new friends.

“I just turned up at my first training session. I remember everyone wearing really nice football training outfits and I just came in my baggy jeans, hoody, and no football shoes, but they took me in with open arms. Everyone is super friendly and ultimately helped me not to relapse. At 18 I started playing with the team. I am now 22 going on 23. At first I was playing once a week, and now I play around four times a week …”

Blomberg is part of Landslaget i gatefotball, the street soccer programme led by Norway’s Salvation Army. The initiative’s goal is to create positive growth through physical activity and social gatherings in individuals who have experienced homelessness and addiction. The Salvation Army currently has street soccer teams across 16 different cities and towns in Norway, and also runs its own national Norwegian Street Soccer Cup.

Blomberg goes on to explain how she advanced from playing at a national level to taking part in the international Homeless World Cup event in Mexico City.

“While I was hanging out with my friends in the summer, I got a text. My phone pinged saying I was one of the chosen candidates to join the Homeless World Cup team. I was super stoked. I really did everything I could to get a place and get one of the eight spaces available. The team has been amazing, full of love and warmth. We have only trained three weekends together—15 practices in total.

“The first match yesterday, the opening match, it was terrible. I was so nervous and my legs were shaking. We lost. We were all so scared. But then it got so much better, we all calmed down and it was a piece of cake from there.”

As the team’s goalkeeper, Blomberg’s main focus over the next four days is, of course, saving goals. But she also has an eye on the future.

“I am starting a new job in two weeks as security staff in a large sport shop. When I am older, I want to work with people—people who have experienced drug addiction and are struggling with mental health. I have got ADHD and I have recently been through a system of testing bi-polar, so I am waiting for an answer there.

“I really recommend anyone to try out sport. I was on anti-depressant medication for a long time, but then I started training. Since I started training, I haven’t needed it. Sport can be a real lifesaver like that.

“I have told my team in Stavanger that I am going to rot with this club because I am never going to leave—I am stuck here. I have replaced my drug addiction with a football addiction.”

Words: Deborah May
Image: Anita Milas and Daniel Lipinski