A former offender is kicking on in life after finding redemption with the “most diverse football club in the world”.
Joining the remarkable rainbow combination of players at Bellevue FC in Wrexham has totally transformed the prospects of Nathan Hauton, 28.
He told the story of how he’s back on a straight and narrow path to the new North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Andy Dunbobbin.
Mr Dunbobbin went to meet a group of players and Delwyn Derrick, who founded the multi-national club which includes individuals from a huge variety of backgrounds, including vulnerable people, refugees and migrants, five years ago.
After being convicted of assaulting an emergency worker when he was drunk, Nathan turned his life around thanks to Bellevue FC.
He said: “I came to Bellevue through my brother who was playing here so I thought I’d come down and start training.
“I was offered a place in the team and then I started drinking too much alcohol and I went down a bad road where I started committing crime.
“I ended up serving a prison sentence at HMP Berwyn, then I spoke to Delwyn when I came out.
“Delwyn said he was interested in me starting the coaching and that if I stayed off the alcohol, the club would pay for the coaching course.
“I’ve been doing that for about four months now and I’m assisting with the first team, I’m manager of the reserve team and also I help with the women’s team.
“So far, I’ve got my Football Leaders’ and UEFA C licences as well as qualifications in child welfare and first aid.
“Bellevue FC has kept me on the right track and I haven’t had any alcohol for over a year.
“I’m on probation and I’ve spoken to them about doing some work with youth offenders so giving back to the criminal justice system.”
The experience of being part of the Bellevue FC family has also had a positive, life-changing impact on Nikki Thompson, 26, after she and her Turkish wife suffered racist and homophobic abuse.
Nikki said: “Since those attacks, obviously our mental health had deteriorated and our 16-year-old son wasn’t feeling too good in himself.
“He came down to Bellevue and he loved it. I came to watch him play and I could see the friendliness in the team and it encouraged me to try. Everyone was so amazing.
“I think I ended up getting trainee of the match on the first session if I recall rightly and it blew my mind.
“It made me feel so welcomed. It made me feel so accepted and that I actually had something in my life that I could work towards, like an actual hobby.
“It’s changed my son and it’s changed me. I can’t thank Bellevue enough.”
Asylum seeker Rolando Bertrand, 23, escaped Nicaragua with his mother and sister in 2019 when their lives were threatened after he took part in anti-government protests.
Since arriving in Wrexham after being relocated to the town by the authorities, the stateless former law student has put his skills to good use off the pitch as well, doing voluntary work with a number of organisations, including the Welsh Refugee Council and Ethnic and Youth Support Team.
In the meantime, he is still battling to be given refugee status and is seeking a lawyer to represent him and his family.
The Bellevue FC “magic” has provided huge support throughout Rolando’s trials and tribulations.
He said: “It’s more than just football. It’s beyond that. We know that football’s got magic that brings people together but here, it takes it to a whole different level.
“We have people from Africa, people from Portugal, people from America, me and people from different backgrounds like economic migrants and asylum seekers.
“It’s a mix of everything that makes you grow as a human being. Bellevue FC makes the world a better place.”
Incredibly, founder Delwyn Derrick, 34, feels he’s not worthy of being garlanded with the host of honours bestowed on him, including the Culture and Sport award at this year’s St David’s Awards and being crowned BBC Wales’ Get Inspired Unsung Hero in 2019.
He said: “Every award or recognition I’ve got at this club I think is a fraud because the story of Bellevue has never been about me.
“The story has been about each and every person that comes here and goes out onto that hallowed turf because they are the ones that are making history over there, not me.
“We’ve got people that technically would be classed as disabled. We’ve got a lad that plays with a stoma bag and that’s something that he feels has held him back in football but here we ask if he minds playing with a stoma bag and if he doesn’t mind, he’s okay to do that and it’s his risk to take.
“Bellevue has stopped being just a club and it’s started being a message and I like the message that it sends. It’s about love, friendship and football.”
Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin was “blown away” by the extraordinary success of Bellevue FC and its players.
He said: “This must be one of the most diverse football clubs, if not the most diverse club on the planet.
“What they have achieved here is nothing short of amazing. It’s life-enhancing and life-changing melting pot of nations and backgrounds, encompassing the whole spectrum of the rainbow.
“The way they bring people together from all parts of the community – no matter what their background – is utterly inspiring.
“It also tells you about the power of football as an international language and a force for good in the world.
“We all have more in common than we think, and we should be embracing people for who they are. Society can learn a lot from Bellevue FC.”