Damian was almost at his lowest ebb when he came across Salford City’s Foundation 92.
Now a Community Sports Coach within the setup, something as simple as kicking a ball around on a Tuesday afternoon turned his life around.
“It changed me from depressed, stuck in my head, hopeless and not adding up to anything to gaining friends, family, experiences and qualifications that I wouldn’t have known about,” he explained. “It practically gave me a new life.
“I wasn’t really doing anything with my life – just trying to survive – and Foundation 92 invited us down to a football session.
“I wanted to change from living inside my head. For a good two hours, I didn’t live in my head. As much as I’ve tried in the past and not had the motivation to do it, this is the happiest I’ve felt in about three years.”
Two-and-a-half years ago, Tom Hutton, Head of Foundation 92, first came across Damian on his lunch break and it was a chance meeting that turned into so much more for both individuals.
“I remember it well; it was summertime and some of his friends took part in a programme called the 92 Shield,” he said. “Damian came down with some of his friends and started playing football and the pitch was right outside my office at the time.
“I got to know Damian and noticed that he loved his football, and he was really supportive of the other players. Over the following weeks, Damian started to ask some questions like, ‘What do Foundation 92 do? What type of support do we offer?’”
After speaking to Damian about some of the services that Foundation 92 offers, from internships to apprenticeships which allow participants to access qualifications, it became clear there was a pathway for him.
Tom explained: “He said, ‘I’d love to be a coach and I love what you said, and I love Foundation 92. As you know, I did used to be homeless but I’m in supported accommodation now, but I really want to try and improve and better my life.’
“For me, I thought that was a very brave thing to ask. He was happy to talk a little bit about his past but what he was very focused on was his future.”
Damian reached his lowest point when he made the decision to end his life prior to joining Foundation 92.
He recalled: “One morning, I said, ‘I’m done.’ I thought about it a couple of times, about ending everything. I went down and said, ‘Bye, mum. I love you.’ That was hard but easy at the same time. I went to jump in front of a train.
“I just lost belief and hope and it went from living to surviving day-by-day and hour-by-hour – I didn’t know if that was the last hour I’d reached before the next.”
“That was probably the darkest moment but a moment I relive in thankfulness that it didn’t happen.”
Now holding down a full-time position at Foundation 92, Damian was able to turn one of his greatest passions into a career but, more than that, he received the support he’d never had before.
“Football Clubs are families, and this was the same attraction – family and hope,” he added. “I tried escaping and didn’t think it would work but I wanted to give it a go, so I’d run out of options and possible avenues to take.”
And he’s putting his experiences to good use in his role.
“We do a lot of outreach sessions and you get a lot of young people who have nobody to turn to which was me at their age,” he continued. “I speak to them and listen to them.
“From my own experience, a lot of kids are living it so I can really tell them it’s not the right path and guide them and give them options. Most people just want a pair of ears to listen to them and my ears are very good at listening.”
For Damian, football broke down those barriers and Tom hopes it will do so for other participants in the future.
He said: “Football provides both hope and aspiration. Through kicking the ball around on a Tuesday afternoon at one of Foundation 92’s community sites, Damian was able to build a relationship, build his confidence, and improve his health and wellbeing.
“It’s about showcasing that anything is possible.”