The scar through Gary Godfrey’s tattoo tells its own story.
A panda inked across his hand of the Scotland skipper reveals a deeply personal meaning.
He explained: “I’ve got a two-year-old daughter called Zara, but when she was four months she was admitted to hospital. We took her home after she was born, but she wasn’t really putting any weight on so we took her to the doctors.
“She was then referred to the congenital heart unit and she spent the next six months of her life there waiting on a heart transplant. Thankfully she got the transplant, but it had a serious effect on myself and my partner at the time.
“The surgeon who performed the transplant gave Zara a panda teddy for good luck, and the wee scar on the tattoo is in honour of her own scar from the operation.”
Today, his daughter is very much part of the 27-year-old’s life, but it could’ve been a very different story.
“I was living in Kilmarnock and joined the air force to get away from some substance misuse and alcoholism issues,” Godfrey said. “Unfortunately I got drawn back into the world very quickly, only this time with a lot more money to buy what I was buying.
“I spiralled downwards and ended up getting discharged from the air force, so for a couple of years after that I just bounced in and out of jobs, racking up debts with certain people, and found myself homeless.
“I was in a hostel and discovered the Street Soccer Scotland sessions on a Tuesday and Thursday in Townhead. Very quickly I managed to build up a rapport with a lot of people and met David Duke there.
“I’ve just secured a job in a child’s residential care home, got myself a wee flat, and paid the first month’s rent. As soon as I get home from here it’s all go again, and most importantly I’ve got my daughter in my life.
“My family don’t need to worry or check up where I am—there’s no chaos in my life anymore.
Aged 15, Godfrey’s dream of becoming a professional footballer was close to a reality as he moved to Leeds United.
He could’ve become the next Billy Bremner, Rio Ferdinand, or James Milner, but was released at 16 after discovering drugs and alcohol.
Now, 12 years on, the Scotland captain is rebuilding his life thanks to the beautiful game.
“I was just about walking with a ball before I could even crawl, so football has played such a major part in my life. There’s a picture of me with a ball at my feet at eight months old.
“I was a professional footballer for Middlesborough before going to Leeds United at 15. I then discovered alcohol, drugs, cigarettes—basically everything you can imagine—and was released at 16.
“No matter what I’ve been struggling with throughout my life, football has always been a way to forget about everything for an hour and a half. My granda pushed me quite a bit, so I had quite a bit of expectation of my shoulders. But I was young and wanted to fit in and basically bowed to peer pressure and went down the wrong road.
“That’s life, and I think it was just meant to happen this way. I don’t look back and regret anything, because it’s made me who I am and more importantly who I’m becoming.”
Godfrey’s experience in Cardiff has been buoyed by being given the armband for the tournament. “With sobriety and my own recovery, it’s all about humility and honesty, so if I can help anyone I will. I think maybe that’s why I was given the captaincy, just accepting the leadership role.
“I don’t know what it was, but I just had this wee feeling or incline before we went to Callander for a team building weekend that I might get it. We had a meeting in the hotel that night and when they said ‘just one more thing’, I just felt this wave coming over me.
“The main thing this tournament does is raise awareness of homeless, and because there is such visible homeless here in Cardiff it’s at the front of everyone’s minds. The unfortunate thing is that when the stands come down and the crowds disappear, a lot of people will forget about it once it’s gone.
“I’m hopeful that times are changing and people will continue carrying the message to raise awareness after this tournament.
“This tournament should and will spur so many people on to better themselves outwith the bubble of this event.”
Words: David Brockett
Images: Romain Kedochim / Soda-Visual