“To play with the Italy shirt on, I was like ‘wow’”

At the picnic area next to the pitches in Bute Park, some of the players from Team Italy are hugging, hi-fiving, and congratulating goalkeeper Ruggero Beretta.

Beretta is a player who, thanks to his wonderul baffo (moustache), has become something of a popular figure among the participants at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff.

The reason? He’s just checked the calendar he keeps on his phone and confirms that he’s been clean from drug use for over a year—378 days to be exact and counting.

And while his teammates jest that he forgot to celebrate the one year anniversary of his recovery, what is shows is the determination Beretta has in his path to recovery from his addiction and desire to move forward with his life.

A former barman who spent time living in London, Paris, and Milan, the 27-year-old from Bergamo found himself in hospital as he became consumed by an addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

He has been working to overcome his addiction by living with others in a home for recovery near Milan in Northern Italy, from where he started working with Asd Dogma Onlus, the non-for-profit organisation who select and train the Italian Homeless World Cup team.

“One year ago I was in hospital for one month. And it was from there I started my recovery, with the possibility for me to do so alongside other people in the same position as me. At first I didn’t want to go into a house with 18 other people, but after speaking to my parents following my time in hospital they told me that I either I go in the house or I leave home. So I said OK.”

“I’ve been living in a house together with others east of Milan on the Adda river since November last year. We play football there and have a seven-a-side team. I heard about the Homeless World Cup when I started my recovery after meeting some of the players who had represented Italy in Mexico, and they spoke very positively about it.”

“I wasn’t sure it would be such a special occasion when I was asked to go play in Cardiff, but about a month before coming here, when I thought that I would be up against players from 50 other countries—players with similar stories to mine—I started to think how special it would be.

“And to play with the Italy shirt on, I was like ‘wow’.”

While Beretta regards his own ability as ‘so-so’, he said that he and his teammates have shown a real improvement in their game since they started the competition, thanks to a constructive post-match analysis and discussions of where they could improve on the field.

And he feels that can serve as a metaphor for the battles he and his teammates face off the pitch.

“Like before, when I was using drugs and alcohol, I didn’t think about the future or the present and didn’t think to try and find solutions to my problems. But here we are speaking to each other every night and watching the games, and you can see how much we have improved,” he said.

Having had experience in the past playing 11-a-side matches and indoor football, the five-a-side matches on a pitch where the ball doesn’t go out and is constantly in play is a new type of football for Beretta to get used to.

But again he sees where he can use the experience on the park to help him in life.

“When you play street soccer the ball never goes out. That tension and the need to be always ready—you need to see life in the same way. Every day you need to do something. Because if you relax too much, even for a short time, for people in my position it can cause problems and lead them back to their past.

“So you can see street soccer in that kind of way,” he noted.

Being part of a team has helped him learn the valuable lesson of communicating with others around him as key tools in the battle to overcome addiction and which has helped him stay clean for over a year—and sober for 252 days and counting.

“For me before when I tried to stop [taking drugs or alcohol], it was just 20 days at a time and it was impossible to stop for longer. I couldn’t do it. But football, my teammates, and my family have helped me.

“If I am at home with my other housemates, what helps me is speaking about our work or what we think or just little stuff. And speaking with people who share the same problems. This is the only way to stop it and see hope. Because to do so alone is impossible.”

With his present environment with his living situation surrounded by others who have faced similar problems, holding down a job, playing football, and receiving the support of his family and those around him, Beretta hopes to remain clean and move forward with his life.

And while it was Buffon who could be seen between the sticks for the Italian national team, the man with the ‘baffo’ in goal for Team Italy at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff is showing that, through his own hard-work and determination, he can succeed both on and off the pitch.

Words: Craig Williams
Images: Mile 44