Getting a kick out of Street Soccer

AT HOGMANAY James Horsburgh was out for the Bells for the first time in his adult life.

"Last New Year I was still on a curfew, the New Year before that I was on a tag and the New Year before that I was in the jail," the 20-year-old said yesterday. "This was the first time that I was able go out beyond a certain time and have a laugh with my friends. It was a good feeling."

Horsburgh – who just "stopped going to school" when he was 15 and was jailed for assault and robbery at 16 – has good reason to feel optimistic about 2010. He is about to become one of the first ever graduates of Street Soccer Academy, a new scheme that uses football to prepare once troubled young men for work or training.

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"I am really looking forward to 2010," Horsburgh said yesterday. "Street Soccer Academy has really turned my life around. That is why I am all excited. There are lots of opportunities."

The academy was spawned by Street Soccer Scotland, a social enterprise that runs football games for men and boys with problems with offending, drugs, drink or homelessness. It is the group responsible for fielding Scotland's Homeless football squad. A team will feature in Rio, Brazil, at this year's World Cup – one for those without a roof over their heads rather than the jamboree for the rich and famous set to take place in South Africa.

But for the past three months Street Soccer Scotland chief executive David Duke has also been preparing seven men, aged 17 to 34, to be football coaches – and contributing members of society. His academy, at the home of Hibernian FC at Easter Road, Edinburgh, is about to produce its first crop of graduates, including Horsburgh.

So far Horsburgh and his friends have qualified as Level One SFA approved coaches, able to train children of primary school level. For some, Duke concedes, it is the first bit of paper qualification they have ever earned.

"They feel good about that," he said. "The aim of the academy is to motivate and energise each person and provide a focus in their day-to day lives. It also gives the individual a pathway into employment or further education while increasing confidence and self-esteem."

By the time they graduate from the six-month course in the spring they will be able to coach secondary-school age youngsters and adults too.

The young men at the academy aren't just learning football. With Jewel and Esk, the Edinburgh college on side, they are also developing employability skills, literacy and numeracy.

Horsburgh, who has been homeless as well as in trouble with the law, yesterday admitted he was excited at the prospect of developing his coaching skills. "I have been into football since I can remember.

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"When you are a young lad everybody wants to be a film star, an astronaut or a football player. I can't be a football player but I would love to get involved with coaching or managing football, even professionally.

"I would like to start with Street Soccer because that is what turned me around.

"I got in to it when I went down to play some of the games and then I showed a bit of commitment. Then Davie Duke asked me to join the Academy and I haven't looked back."

"My parents are over the moon with me. My mum is glad to see that I am actually doing something with myself and not lying in my bed all day watching TV. My dad is the same. They have told me numerous times that I am a different person."

Horsburgh has seen his life kick off again since he joined Street Soccer Academy. He knows it's not all about football but the big game still gets him excited. The only Hibs fan at the Easter Road base – all the other youngsters support Hearts, Rangers or Celtic – has had the best of the banter with his team riding high until recently.