'Thanks to Everton my family are proud of me'

28 Mar 2018

How Everton in the Community guided Lee Johnson to a life away from drug addiction and 18 years on the streets

Football has always been an important part of Lee Johnson's life.

When he was younger, Lee would play for his school every Saturday and would go to Goodison Park with his dad to watch his beloved Everton.

"We used to sit in the main stand and I would say, 'This is what I want to do, I would love to work in football one day,'" he says. "They were happy memories for me."

But with brothers and sisters who had cystic fibrosis, Lee's childhood was difficult.

When he was 12, Lee started drinking alcohol and taking drugs and by the time he was 16, he was addicted to heroin.

His downward spiral to homelessness had begun.

On the streets

"I was in and out of hostels and sleeping rough for 18 years," he says. "I've slept in bin sheds, bus stops and doorways.

"I was always in a drug-induced state. I was trapped in my own little world.

"When you're out in that cold, I don't know how I survived."

At that point there seemed little way out.

But in 2011, Lee started accessing services offered by the Whitechapel Centre, a homeless charity working in Liverpool which has a longstanding relationship with Everton in the Community (EitC).

After attending football sessions run by EitC coaches, things started to change for the better.

Turning point

"Getting back into football, that was the turning point," Lee says. "Everton coaches started coming in, getting us fit and looking at healthy ways to live instead of the way we were living." 

With the support of EitC, Lee moved into a flat and stopped taking drugs. After 14 months clean, Lee began to realise his dream of working in football.

He helped on matchdays at Goodison Park and became an official tour guide there. He also volunteered on an EitC programme that supported people with dementia.

"Getting clean, staying off drugs and living in a flat, it was like a whole new world again for me," he says.

"When I started volunteering for Everton, anything they wanted me to volunteer for, I was always hands up in the air.

"Doing that matchday role, doing the flags and being given the responsibility, it can't be beaten."

Supporting role

With his self-esteem and confidence rediscovered, Lee has taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to him.

He has earned qualifications, including his FA Level One coaching badge.

As a support worker with EitC, he looks to help people who are in the same situation as he was.

"To be in a position where I can help them with their journey, to be a success, there's no better feeling when it comes off," he says.

"Considering where I have come from, I've got an education and got this job. It's just out of this world.

"If I can do it, pretty much anyone can do it."

Thanks to the help of Everton, Lee has also re-established the links he had broken with his family. 

"Where I was at the time, I lost all my relationships with my family. I’ve built relationships with my son again, with my family."

"They’re proud of me to be where I am.

"Everton have given me my life back by giving me this opportunity to work and that's a dream."

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