With the ball at his feet he puts his head down and runs past the defender. Sprinting and dribbling towards the goal, he puts his head up and shoots. And he scores!
This moment is replicated time and time again at North Wollongong Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) as people from all walks of life come together to escape their world and play football. 56-year-old Martin Levy runs the Street Football Program through Life without Barriers, a not-for-profit organisation providing care and support services to assist and give care to people with disabilities, mental health issues, homelessness and those who have immigrated to Australia.
Mr Levy, who coaches and mentors at the PCYC, said the program uses football to help teach the participants comradeship, taking and giving, caring about others and gives them a sense of belonging, which most wouldn’t find during their day to day lives.
One of those participants, who asked to not to be identified, is an unemployed man who loves the feeling of playing football with the program.
“I love it, I live for Wednesdays. I don’t have much to do being unemployed and all of that stuff, so when Wednesday comes along, I can forget about all of my issues for a couple of hours and just play the sport that I love… I think that’s why everybody loves it.”
The program was originally run through The Big Issue however, due to financial struggles it was cut.
That’s when Martin volunteered to take over the program. A teacher by profession, Mr Levy said that it was his love of the game that persuaded him to keep the football program running.
“Some people were left with nothing do after the program was cut so I thought that it was important to continue running it. People kept turning up week after week and now thanks to Life Without Barriers it’s back on its feet. The numbers are growing and we have sufficient facilities. It’s good to see.”
Alicia Pearson, an employee at Life Without Barriers said she is grateful that Mr Levy took over the program.
“I remember when the program was cut, I was so upset, it’s such a great program and I thought it would be a great shame if it were to stop.”
When asked why he chose to do what he does, Mr Levy said it is all about the people who show up every Wednesday.
“We have people from disadvantaged families, people with mental and physical disabilities and people from overseas that are struggling to adapt to Australia, even the community police officers come down for a kick.”
“I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the people involved. Obviously I wouldn’t have a program to run if it wasn’t for them and I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the passion and commitment put towards it.”
As a football player myself, I know what it’s like to have a bad day and play with my football to forget my worries and Mr Levy said that it’s so amazing the things you can do with a ball at your feet.
“For me it’s about the love, for these guys it’s about surviving and for everyone involved including the community spirit, it’s about happiness. The world game is a wonderful thing.”
Martin had his work with marginalised youths through Life without Barriers’ street football program recognised in July when he won the 2014 Community Connect Award on the Gold Coast, for his ongoing mentoring through the program. – Chris Matthews-Darby
Top photo from Greta Levy