They played together as kids at West Ham but the lives of Jermain Defoe and Nathan Auguste couldn’t have turned out more differently.
Last week, Sunderland striker Defoe – who has scored more than 100 goals in England’s top-flight – hit the headlines after he advertised for a £60k-per-year personal assistant to help run his pampered Premier League life.
Auguste, meanwhile, was released by the Hammers as a teenager and has lived in a homeless hostel for the past 14 months amid struggles with depression and drug abuse.
Today, the 32-year-old has transformed his fortunes and will soon follow in the footsteps of former teammate Defoe – who made more than 50 appearances for England – in representing his country on the global stage when he jets off to Amsterdam as part of the England squad for this year’s Homeless World Cup.
I turned to drug abuse, which is something I never thought I would say
“I was at West Ham with Jermain Defoe but was dropped when I was 13 because I was too small to be a goalkeeper,” Auguste explains. “I went off the rails after that.”
Auguste, who has a three-year-old son, worked as a leisure centre manager in Barking before moving to Cardiff where his girlfriend fell pregnant. However, last year he ended up on the streets after his relationship broke down.
This came after he lost his grandfather, godfather and father – who was just 47 – all within the space of a few tragic months.
“I was stuck in a rut and suffering from bad depression,” Auguste says. “I turned to drug abuse, which is something I never thought I would say. I was on a complete downward spiral.”
Auguste was selected after excelling at a Homeless FA Training Centre at Arsenal in the Community – a scheme run by his boyhood heroes – and will spearhead England as they face Poland, Austria, Peru, Greece and Zimbabwe in Group H.
“Ever since I made the application, things have improved for me day by day, week by week,” he says. “It has given me a new meaning for life. This whole experience has led me to stop questioning myself so much. I have more faith in my ability, my confidence has escalated and all I want to do now is help other people.
“I was in a tedious cycle before, where things might be going well and then all of a sudden something small would knock me straight back. Now, since I’ve been with Arsenal and the Homeless FA, when something goes wrong I don’t take it so negatively, I try to look for a positive outcome to move forward.
After having my son, this has been the second-best experience of my life
“I’m very proud of everything I’ve achieved in such a short space of time,” Auguste adds. “To represent your country at any level, in any way, in any sport, is huge. After having my son, this has been the second-best experience of my life.”
England are also sending a women’s team to Amsterdam, which will take inspiration from the success of Mark Sampson’s international side at this year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup, where they finished a best-ever third place.
One of the Homeless World Cup side’s brightest prospects is Hannah Voice, a 20-year-old former Chelsea trialist who fell homeless after life went sour at home in Horsham, West Sussex.
“I had a family breakdown, which led to me deciding I couldn’t live there any more,” explains Hannah. “I ended up in a YMCA hostel down the road from where I was living with my mum and dad.”
Manchester United supporter Hannah made the final England squad after coming through the Brighton and Hove Albion training centre earlier this year and will face holders Chile, USA, Mexico, Denmark, India, Egypt and Finland in Group B. However, while the prospect of representing England in Amsterdam is undoubtedly something to savour, Hannah’s experience as a Homeless FA graduate has proved valuable in so many ways.
This whole year has just opened the door for the rest of my life
“I have such an amazing relationship with my family again,” Hannah says. “This whole year has just opened the door for the rest of my life.
“I’m a different person than I was even a year ago. I was going down a bad route, and then when I ended up in the hostel it just got so much worse. I could cry just thinking about it.”
Top photo: Hannah Voice by Joana Freitas and Mesit Osman