David Duke MBE, Founder & CEO of Street Soccer Scotland
“The stigma around homelessness is clear. We see it every day, in the media, in terms of how people rate stories concerned with homelessness, there's always that kind of judgement, that pre-judgement.”
It’s a hot, sunny Thursday morning when we meet David Duke, the entrepreneur behind Street Soccer Scotland, and he’s showing off his impressive football skills on an outdoor pitch near London Waterloo station. Just a few days later, he will be accepting an MBE for using his social enterprise to help others out of hardship. Despite this momentous achievement, David remains humble as he describes his surprise at receiving the letter informing him that he had made the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours List.
"It's not something I expected or thought about. I’ve never been one for personal awards or anything like that. You do what you do because you're passionate and you want to make a difference. That said, I do realise the impact it's had on my family who are really proud, some of the players who we support, our staff and our volunteers, because although the MBE was for me, it's actually for everything that everyone's done. It's very much a team award, but personally I just get embarrassed by it all."
David was born in 1980 in Govan, a ship building district Glasgow. The area solely relied on the shipyard industry for employment, and when the industry collapsed, the community was thrown into poverty.
“This led to a lot of job losses, not only in the yards and overseas but the local economy was affected as well. Local shops were closing down, and it cast a bit of a cloud over the area in terms of employment and income for people.
"My own childhood was a wee bit challenging because my dad was an alcoholic, which put a lot of pressure on the family. My brother and sister were a bit older so they moved out, but the pressure of living with someone who's got an addiction and an illness is very tough, to the point where my mum left my dad when I was 13.
“At the time I was just a kid and I was left with the option of ‘do I stay with my dad or do I go with my mum?’ I stayed with my dad, which meant life at home was difficult because I never had any structure to maintain or stay in education.”
As a result, David left school as the need to earn income for the household became more important. “I was fairly older than my years,” he explains. “But I’ve been quite self-sufficient from an early age.”
“I would sell football tickets at matches and come up with different ways of earning money without breaking the law. But that was survival. It wasn't because I had ambitions to be an entrepreneur or anything. It’s just the things you do to survive.”
David’s relationship with his father began to worsen forcing David to move out of the family home. “Then I got a phone call to say that he had been found dead, his health had deteriorated through alcoholism and he passed away. I was told this over the phone, so obviously, it came as a shock. I felt guilty, and thought things might have been different if I had stayed."
Struggling to cope, David turned to alcohol to block out his father's death. "It was the first time I had really experienced loss. While my family around me were grieving, I was stuck in this kind of zone where you kind of just blank it out."
David was working in a bar at the time, and began partying and drinking every night, which eventually caused him to lose his job."I broke up with my girlfriend because I wasn't loving in the relationship because I couldn't give any love. I was trapped in my own head. You lose your job, your relationship, your income, and then the next thing you lose is your house. So I lost my house and, homelessness is not something that you think about. It's not something that you see really, because it's not a part of your life. We all have our own lives and we all do our own thing and you don't actually see the suffering of other people."
While sleeping rough, David saw an advert for the 2003 Homeless World Cup in Sweden. “There was a poster advertising a football tournament which was being run in Glasgow and the purpose of it was to find a Scotland team to represent the Scottish homeless World Cup team in Sweden."
He started training and was picked as part of the Scotland team which finished fourth at the competition. Returning home, he got more involved in football coaching and led his country to World Cup victory four years later.
After the tournament, David was determined not to slip back into his old ways. “When I came back it was a critical moment because the football had stopped, there was no more training, no more team and no more tournament. I was at this kind of crossroads, and I needed to find something to do. Luckily, I started volunteering for a football team in Glasgow. I did my coaching qualifications and then I got offered a house in a nice area, which I was familiar with.
“I always remember thinking, ‘I'm so glad this happened now rather than before,’ because I felt I had to go on that journey. I had a life outside the house as well as friendships, and relationships, I had purpose. But if I'd just got the keys to the house and didn’t have anything else, then things might not have worked out.”
Inspired to make a difference and give back to the community, David quit his job at The Big Issue as well as his youth work and coaching and moved to Edinburgh to set up Street Soccer Scotland. "I was a bit scared because obviously you're giving up certain financial security and taking a risk, but I felt the risk was worth it because homelessness is very high in Scotland and a big demographic of homelessness is single young men under the age of 40. I received a £3,000 grant from a social enterprise start-up fund that allowed me to register my business and get it off the ground.
“When someone is homeless, they are missing security and a purpose, so I want Street Soccer to be a catalyst for people to find this because if someone is living a life without relationships and purpose, then they can't move forward as your career journey often is shaped through the people you meet.”
David is quick to emphasise that homelessness can happen to anyone. Currently, more than one million people in Scotland admit that failing to collect just two pay cheques would render them unable to pay their mortgages, according to new research.
“Homelessness can be very isolating. It can be very scary because when you lose all your hope, you then don't value your life as much as you should. It becomes dangerous because you begin looking for company, and sometimes you find it in the wrong places. A lot of people are entrenched by addiction and crime and stuff like, because everyone's had their own journey to figure out. You don’t care about the consequences because you feel like you don’t exist.”
So how has Street Soccer Scotland changed David’s life? “It's quite funny, often people say, 'It's great that Street Soccer Scotland is having an impact on people's lives', and stuff like that. But it's also had a massive impact on my life. Street Soccer is the reason I get up in the morning. It's what drives me, as does social change, alleviating poverty and ending homelessness.”
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