“When I have a ball in front of me I forget about everything”

The largest football club in Europe in terms of number of active teams of all ages, Stockholm based side IF Brommapojkarna is famous for its youth academy and for having produced numerous top-quality Swedish players throughout the years.

And not too long ago, they counted Matias Nicolas Daniel Arriola among their ranks. Arriola is here in Cardiff turning out for Sweden at this year’s Homeless World Cup.

A promising footballer in his teenage days, Arriola (who was born in Argentina but moved to Sweden when he was three) was scouted by some of the top clubs in England and had the chance to go over there to play.

Unfortunately, due to a drug dependency that started in his early teens, the opportunity to do so passed him by.

“I was brought up by my dad who played football, and my older brother also played. When I was young, I started playing for the biggest teams in Stockholm.

“But when I was an adolescent, I started hanging around with a bad crowd, doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing, and I became a drug addict at 13 years of age. Football was always there, although much less when I had my problems. But I was always playing football.

“And after, at the age of 15, I was offered the possibility to go to England to play with Manchester United, but because I was addicted to drugs, I decided to stop playing football and instead devoted myself to doing things that weren’t very good for me.

“I played in the best team in Sweden, IF Brommapojkarna, who sent many players over to England. But women, drugs, alcohol, and everything like that were more fun for me.

“I played football because I enjoyed it, to have fun. I didn’t want to be under an obligation to train. I wanted to play matches and score goals. But people expected too much from me. And I became tired of that. Nothing more.”

Having spent almost half his life as an addict, Arriola was able to combat his addiction, and in doing so joined up with Gatans Lag,  the Swedish organisation that uses football as a tool to beat homelessness, addiction, and other types of social exclusion.

“I had a drug addiction for around 15 or 16 years and I got out of it and found the team with which I’m playing with at the moment, Gatans Lag. The team is made up of people who have been addicts, people who have had problems with criminality, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

“Half the team are from Stockholm and half the team are from Gothenburg, and we got together, trained, and came here. I started playing there [with the team] and I feel good doing so.

“I’m 32, but I [still] live football. I play. Not at the same level as before, but I play. Even if only a few times a week, I play,” he said.

Not only is Arriola back playing the game that he loves, but football is his profession also as he coaches youngsters back in Stockholm. And he has passed on his love for it to his kids.

“I coach 10-year-old girls also. So I work within football. Even if now I haven’t had a career in football, I have it in my life. I’m still with it because of the passion I have for football.

“And I want my kids to play football too. My oldest child likes football and my middle and youngest children like it too. They are watching on from Sweden. It’s fun. The oldest is 12, the middle child is seven, and the youngest is one year and eight months old. They are happy.

“They are saying that ‘Daddy is a star’,” he said with a smile.

Having missed out on the possibility of becoming a professional player and playing for one of the biggest club sides in the world in Manchester United when he was younger, it begs the question if he is content in having football again as a protagonist in his life.

“Of course, it’s very important for me. Because when I turned 20 or 22 years old around that age I started to feel regret and feel bad because I chose the wrong path, I could have been in another place in life.

“But now, I do what I can, I do whatever, what I love. Which is to play football and be around those who play football. To come here, it’s the greatest thing that has happened in my life. Football is my life, I love it. The only thing I do when I have free time is play football.

“And being here is huge for me. I love it. This is why people play football. To come to big championships and tournaments. To have fun and enjoy yourself, score goals, laugh for a while, cry together, and laugh together. Like a team, nothing more,” he said.

And being here, Arriola is acutely aware of his surroundings and the fact that like him, everyone taking part in the Homeless World Cup has been through their own problems.

“Of course it gives you motivation because, coming from the life that I have had—and not a good life—to see so many people who have not had the same problems but similar ones to each other, and being here, playing football, having fun, it’s great. Because it’s difficult to have come from that, from the bottom, and be here in Wales playing football. It’s great,” he responded.

And more than anything, it’s obvious just how much love 32-year-old Arriola has for the game.

“Football is the best medicine that exists. With football, one forgets about everything. All the problems that one has. All the problems in the world—one leaves behind them when they step on to the pitch.

“I can speak for myself. When I have a ball in front of me, I forget about everything. There aren’t any problems. It’s me and the ball and nothing else. Me, the ball, and the goal.”

Words: Craig Williams
Portraits: Romain Kedochim / Soda-Visual
Team photo: Mile 44