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“Football rewards you for all the effort you put in to it”

Copyrights: Daniel Lipinski / Soda-Visual

“Football rewards you for all the effort you put in to it”

Playing for his country at a World Cup is fulfilling a lifelong dream, and epitomises Rios overcoming big challenges in his life - a moving story coming from the Cardiff 2019 Homeless World Cup.

Among the Mexican men’s squad taking part in this year’s Homeless World Cup is 31-year-old Juan Jesus Rios, from Ciudad Juarez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Affectionately known as ‘Pinpon’, Rios found life growing up in one of Mexico’s most violent cities was one of great difficulty. He was living on the streets by the age of 14 and spent most of his life troubled by alcohol and drug use, which ultimately led to an accident in December of  2007 that saw him suffer devastating burns to 80% of his face and body.

Rios got involved with Mexico’s street soccer network in his home city in 2013 after learning about the program via a TV advert.

When I was 13 years old I had real problems with my father, who, like the problems that life throws at you, would hit me. It was then I dropped out of school and my studies in secondary education. I left home and didn’t want to go to live with my mother because she lived far away in an area [that] was very dangerous.

“Near where my father lived I lived for about one-and-a-half to two years outside the house of my friend in a car that he had. He leant me a blanket and there I stayed. And from there I started to get involved in drugs, smoking marijuana, using inhalants, cocaine, alcohol, pills—I began to take every kind of drug.

“The drug that I used most was cocaine, and because of that I ended up very, very thin. That was until my mother found out I was living on the streets and came and got me and put me into a rehabilitation centre. It was there thanks to God I got together with the mother of my children.

And although he was able to leave the rehabilitation centre and begin his steps towards a new life as a father, a return to his drink and drug problems resulted in his life-changing accident.

“I had my accident, when I got burnt, on the 11th of December of 2007. The worst day of my life. My partner was pregnant at the time and at that moment I was working for a drug trafficker and drug dealers, selling drugs in the USA and in my home city of [Ciudad] Juarez.

“One day I arrived home and encountered my wife outside my house. She’d been thrown out by my brothers and sister because it was their house. I was drunk and had taken pills—I was very intoxicated—and seeing my wife there, six months pregnant and hungry, sent me into a rage.

“So I started fighting with my brothers and I set fire to my sister’s furniture and I told them that I was going to burn the house down. They didn’t believe me. I left and took my wife back to her house with her mum. I bought 30 pesos of petrol and returned to the house and went in and set fire to it. The door closed on me and I was stuck inside for around 5 to 10 minutes as most as the fire took hold.

“I screamed at God that I didn’t want to die, that he let me to get to know my child, that I wanted a second opportunity, and that I wasn’t going to fail. That I wanted to be a dad. And thanks to God, he gave me that opportunity. He gave me the opportunity that I asked for. Even if that meant a lot of suffering.”


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Craig Williams, Homeless World Cup Media Team


Monday, July 29, 2019 - 16:12