England coach won’t look back in anger at Homeless World Cup

Hugo Casallas has beaten the uncontrollable rage that took everything from him after playing in the tournament. Now he wants to win in Oslo

“I enjoy working with people and when I am coaching some of the players that I work with, what I say is bible. It is a blessing to have people tell you that you are good person and not an animal,” says Team England coach Hugo Casallas.

The 26-year-old is now giving out words of wisdom in Oslo at the Homeless World Cup, which is running all this week.

And he insists that that he had the same influence himself as a younger man.

Hugo added: “I wish that I had that kind of role model when I was younger. I have become one with myself now and I have learned where my anger came from and that has helped me to learn how to control it.”

The Londoner saw an anger management problem tear his life apart when he was just 21.

I didn’t have alcohol or drug problems, but my anger started to grow. It was like a drug but it was even worse because it was completely self-inflicted

Hugo’s uncontrollable rage strained his relationship with his family and led to him striking out on his own, moving to his own flat in the capital and finding work.

But a motorcycle crash saw all that taken away almost instantly.

Hugo said: “I had a very bad motorcycle crash that ended everything for me because at the time I was a mechanic, a personal trainer and a football coach at the same time and I had to give all that up.

Hugo Casallas played for England at the 2015 tournament. This year he will be coaching the side.

“It meant that I couldn’t pay my rent, I was 21 and I had a £300,000 flat, and my landlord didn’t care, my family didn’t want me back, my other-half didn’t want me so I ended up sleeping in car parks and places like that instead.

“I didn’t have alcohol or drug problems, but my anger started to grow. It was like a drug but it was even worse because it was completely self-inflicted.”

After a spell on the streets, the first green shoots of recovery came when he got himself involved with Centrepoint, who became full-time partners with the Street Football Association (SFA) in 2014.

Hugo participated in a football course at Fulham FC before securing accommodation through the homelessness charity.

It was an amazing experience and, on the pitch, it was very exhilarating and demanding but it was an experience that I would like to do over and over again

And he immediately showed staff running the course that he had what it takes to lead people.

An offer to take part in the 2015 Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam followed.

Hugo said: “When I first started, I was looking after a guy called Alby, taking him from the hostel to the sessions and translating for him because he spoke very little English.

“The people running the course were impressed by that and they offered me the chance to play for the England team and asked if I was interested, which of course I was.

“I had a confident feeling that I was going to make the team and I wanted to help the other players and I felt like I had something to prove to myself and the staff – it was the first time that I had ever been to Holland and I was excited.

“It was an amazing experience and, on the pitch, it was very exhilarating and demanding but it was an experience that I would like to do over and over again.

“I managed to get a cheeky goal but I thought I’d broken my leg in the third match – I went to hospital until two in the morning and found out that I had a cut on the muscle.

“But the next day, I told the physio to strap it up and to get me on the pitch. I think that showed resilience and that is the word that I was thinking about all the time, I remembered ‘resilience’ from workshops back at Centrepoint and it has kept me going through everything.”

This week, Hugo will have the chance to return to the Homeless World Cup fold when he appears in Oslo – this time as a coach.

Now, I’m very confident about our chances in Norway

And he claims that the man who will try to lead England to glory this year is a different bloke to the one who struggled to get to grips with his own anger.

Hugo said: “After the tournament, I unfortunately had to go to prison for a six-week sentence but when I got out I was desperate to get involved and wanted to crack on with positivity. So I ended up DJing at an event at the European Street Football Festival in Manchester and coaching with Centrepoint.

“Now, I’m very confident about our chances in Norway.

“I have always been a confident person, I’m just like that, and I’m never going to let anything stop me.

After getting on top of his anger problems, Hugo is hoping to inspire others

“But the players are nice and relaxed and I believe that we are going to do well in the tournament.

“It’s nice that I’m able to enjoy what I’m doing now so I’m much happier nowadays.”

Read more about the Homeless World Cup – including player profiles and an emotional tale of how the tournament transformed one Big Issue vendor’s life – in this week’s magazine.

Pictures courtesy of Joanne Freitas