Football saved my life, Homeless World Cup captain says

DESCENDING ever deeper into a drug-fuelled nightmare, the former professional footballer attempted to take his own life.

Thursday, 7th July 2016, 7:06 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:52 pm
Scotland's Homeless World Cup captain Craig McManus. Picture: contributed

Craig McManus had finally hit rock bottom after a two-decade battle with cocaine and alcohol, losing his job, his car and his home to his addictions.

But the 40-year-old will turn despair into triumph when he leads the national team out on Sunday against Hong Kong as he captains Scotland in the Homeless World Cup in Glasgow’s George Square.

Craig, who has been in recovery since September, is one of three players from the Capital chosen to represent Scotland after nationwide trials.

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Karen Boggie, 34, will captain the women’s squad, playing alongside 21-year-old Stephanie Tweed, who has also turned her life around.

Craig, who played for Hamilton in his late teens, said: “I feel privileged to be part of it. I got my head down and worked really hard physically.

“Making the team was a relief and also gave me a real sense of achievement that I hadn’t experienced because everything else in life I had taken for granted.

“Now I don’t take anything for granted and I feel brilliant to be part of it. And when they told me they wanted me to be captain it was just the cherry on top. I now believe that my purpose in life is to help others. I don’t want anything from this.

“Football has been a constant in my life and if I didn’t have that I don’t know what would have happened. My family are going to be there and for once they can look on me with a bit of pride. I am really looking forward to this week.”

Craig worked as a national programme manager for Street Soccer, the social enterprise that manages the Scotland Homeless World Cup team.

But in a cruel irony he became the one who needed help as his addictions overwhelmed him and made it impossible for him to hold down the job.

The organisation refused to abandon him and gave him a second chance as a volunteer, developing projects to help others.

He is also working as a coach at Penicuik and feeling positive about the future, though last September his future looked bleak. The death of father Robert from pancreatic cancer in May last year – combined with feelings of guilt and shame at his addiction – gave him the “excuse” he craved to continue using. But it was while sitting in his father’s house that he asked himself: “Is there time to change my life?” Then he decided to act.

Craig recalls: “I had this feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing. I hated what I had become but I couldn’t understand how I couldn’t stop. I thought ‘What am I doing?’ There were a few suicide attempts. But I failed at that and now I’m glad I failed. At the time I was totally isolated. The drugs were causing havoc but they were more important to me than anything else.

“The first thing I would do is try to get more. I never used drugs to feel better. I used them to stop feeling. But then they stopped working. The pain I felt wasn’t going away.”

At his lowest ebb, Craig was consuming up to a gram of cocaine every day and using alcohol as a “come down” from the drug so he could sleep.

He says his continued recovery was due to three influences – a series of meetings for addicts, a 12-week stay in a treatment centre in Leith and his passion for football.

The international tournament, which will see more than 500 players competing from across the world, will be held from July 10-16.

Ally Dawson, Team Scotland manager, said: “This is always a fantastic event and experience for everyone that is involved but to be selected for the host nation’s team will make this one extra special for Craig, Karen and Stephanie. Playing in front of a vocal home crowd in Glasgow will be a positive memory that will remain with the players for ever.”

David Duke, founder of Street Soccer Scotland, added: “I played at the Homeless World Cup in 2003 and it is a positive memory that inspires me every day.”

Street Soccer Scotland provides personal development courses and training sessions to over 1000 socially disadvantaged adults and young people every week in Scotland. Founded in 2009 by David Duke, who was once homeless himself, it is now a leading sport for social change organisation, with support from Sir Alex Ferguson.