“Standing in line for the anthems I stumbled at first, thinking ‘I hope I know all the words for this?’ But I felt a real sense of pride – it’s the first time in years I’ve actually felt part of something and Street Soccer’s made that all possible for me.”
Leading his national side onto the pitch in his home country at the recent Four Nations Challenge would have been unimaginable for Scotland team captain Stuart Hanlon just six months ago – and he’s in no doubt what has turned his life around.
“I’ve been homeless since I was 18 – I caused a lot of problems when I was younger through alcohol and drug use. My life was pretty much unmanageable for the last 10 years,” he admits.
“I’ve worked as a chef for periods of my life, moved around a lot, thinking that my problems would get easier but they got worse and worse everywhere I went. I’d have periods of sobriety then something would happen and I’d be back to square one. Lost my job, lost my home.
“This is the first time I’ve been in recovery and it’s changed my life.”
Just over five months ago, Stuart went into rehab in Clydebank where he started kicking a ball around in the back garden of the recovery facility. His skills were spotted by the staff there, who suggested he get involved with the Street Soccer initiative.
“So I did and I’ve been up there for pretty much the last five months. It’s been brilliant. It’s the best thing I’ve done. Street Soccer has given me a foundation in my life and something to focus on. I’ve taken a lot of football into my recovery.”
“I work with Street Soccer Mondays to Thursdays at Townhead and I do a lot of my recovery work at night – it’s a good balance. Then I do voluntary work at weekends in a wee place in Scotstoun – Well Fed – where we feed a lot of homeless people. I’ve been working as a chef there for the last couple of months.”
Then came the call-up from the Street Soccer Scotland coach, four weeks before the tournament, followed by the news Stuart had been picked to captain the side.
“I could hardly take it in,” he gasps. “I’ve been feeling a wee bit of pressure since, then it’s come up to the day and all the problems have disappeared. Everybody’s just come together. You get to meet loads of new people and find a lot of you have suffered from the same backgrounds, a lot of us have suffered the same problems.”
“And this is just the start. I’ve never been part of something like this in my life. I’m always going to look back at this weekend and realise I represented my country in a major tournament. An opportunity like this is just brilliant.”
“This whole experience has been 100% a turning point in my life. When I go to Street Soccer in Glasgow they’re like my family; we’re all on the same page. I feel part of a big family and the staff are brilliant – if you’ve got any problems I wouldn’t hesitate to go to one of them because, generally, they’ve been through it themselves.”
Stuart breaks off to survey the teams coming off the pitch, the players waiting to go on and those warming up and chatting away against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
“It’s been great to meet up with all the other players here, especially England,” he grins. “You always think of the rivalry between Scotland and England but they’re just like the rest of us, and a good bunch of lads, brilliant to talk to.
“We’re all the same team, really.”
Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: Edinburgh Photographic