A young man has spoken movingly about how football is helping him overcome his addiction to cocaine – and win a place playing for Wales at an international tournament.
Robbie Ray, 21, is a member of Wrexham Inclusion FC which was set up to benefit people who might otherwise not get to play the game due to physical or emotional issues.
As a result he’s been picked to for the Welsh team to play in the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City in November along with team mate Reanna Walker, while player-coach Ben Ravenscroft has been chosen to be on stand-by.
The trio described the positive impact football has had on their lives to North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who came to see one of the club’s training sessions at Chirk Leisure Centre.
The club has received a £2,500 grant for the Your Community, Your Choice fund set up by Mr Jones in conjunction with North Wales Police and the Police and Community Trust (PACT).
Half the cash for the awards comes partly from money seized by the courts through the Proceeds of Crime Act with the rest from the Police Commissioner’s Fund.
Robbie Ray, said: “I was addicted to cocaine but have been clean for some months now thanks to a 12-step programme.
“My dad told me about the club and I came down around three months ago and joined in. I really enjoy it and I’m going for trials for the Hornless World Cup in Mexico. The tournament is for homeless people or those in danger of becoming homeless.
“I really enjoy the club and there is no doubt it has helped me in my fight against drug addiction. It’s made me determined and much more confident about the future.”
Ben Ravenscroft, 24, has been with the club for just over a year.
He said: “I’m a coach with the club. It’s amazing as I had massive mental health issues and very nearly committed suicide just over a year ago.
“The mental health team at Wrexham Maelor Hospital put me in touch with the club and I’ve gone from strength to strength.
“I just came along one evening joined in and I haven’t looked back. No one judges you and I feel valued. My anxiety and depression, while still problems, are getting better and much of that has to be down to the club.”
Reanna Walker, 18, added: “I was down-in-the-dumps and didn’t really mix with anyone but I’ve now made lots of new friends and really enjoy the training and playing in games. Having the mini bus is massive and a means a lot to the club and players.”
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said: “Each year the Your Community, Your Choice scheme supports projects in each county in North Wales and two projects covering the whole of the region. The money goes to projects voted on by the general public.
“I’m delighted the public voted in favour of supporting Wrexham Inclusion FC. The club is bringing people together and giving them a sense of purpose.
“It’s wonderful that the club is taking on players from all walks of life whether they have substance abuse or mental health issues or physical disabilities. It might be players are socially isolated or even homeless, everyone is made to feel welcome.”
“It really is a wonderful club and it’s helping to reduce reoffending and is given people a real chance in life.
“I really am delighted we have been able to support the club with a donation of £2,500 as well as a little extra to cover some shirt sponsorship.”
Wayne Greenshields, Wrexham Inclusion FC general manager, says the £2,500 donation from Your Community, Your Choice fund has given the club and players a massive confidence boost.
He said: “For a year we have travelled to games and tournaments in cars but that is really difficult. Taking two seven-a-side teams to a tournament means using a minimum of five cars.
“We decided 18 months ago to start fundraising for a mini bus and had a target of £7,500 but we were directed to the Williams Family Foundation and they really helped us.
“So we upped our game and set a new target so we could get a bus fitted with disability and wheelchair access. In total we have raised £17,500 including the money we raised ourselves through bag packs and other fundraising schemes.
“But the money from the Your Community Your Choice scheme is a massive boost and really helped get us over the line. We now have our mini bus and we couldn’t be happier.”
He added: “My colleague Carl Austin and I were both running separate clubs for mental health groups and other disabilities so we joined forces.
“We changed the name to Wrexham Inclusion FC last year and now accept and support players with physical and mental problems as well as doctor referrals, people living in poverty or in socially isolation.
“We now have 90 active players and have around 70 players training each week which is wonderful.
“We take two teams to Everton, Merseyside each week to play in a league set up for people with mental health issues and having the mini bus will make a big difference to those two teams.
“And we have had four players representing Wales in the Disability Cup as well as several other players who have trials for Wales for the Homeless World Cup which will take place later this year in Mexico.”
PACT trustee Lloyd Fitzhugh said: “Where the money goes isn’t decided by the Commissioner or PACT trustees, it’s put to a public vote and it’s the people who decide who gets the money that’s available.
“It’s a remarkable scheme and it’s wonderful to see the difference this funding is making to the lives of so many people.
“Wrexham Inclusion FC is making a big difference to a great many people and it really is a worthwhile club that deserves support.”