Homeless footballer set to play in World Cup

FINALS: Donald Wheatley
FINALS: Donald Wheatley

A HOMELESS footballer is set to grace the national stage after being picked for the World Cup.

Donald Wheatley, from Horden, was chosen for Team England, after taking part in a training course run by Sunderland’s Foundation of Light.

The 26-year-old flew off to Poland yesterday to take part in the matches as part of the Homeless World Cup, in Poznan.

The Foundation, which uses the power of football to involve, educate and inspire thousands of young people, was one of nine centres nationally chosen to run a special training programme on behalf of the Homeless FA.

More than 30 people from across the region aged between 18 and 49 took part in the sessions, which culminated in them all receiving a level one award in sports leadership.

Donald and 18-year-old Nicky Andrew, from Newcastle, were the only two to make the World Cup squad.

He said: “I was living on the streets in Peterlee and got myself in a bit of trouble.

“Now I’ve got a house and I’ve gone on to do my level two in sports leadership.

“My long term dream is to be able to train boxing. For the first time in a long time my life is clicking into place.

“The course has really changed my life around.”

Ashleigh Allen, 22, from Sunderland, was picked for Team England to play in a separate international tournament, in Scotland, while Liam Naisby, 25, has already been to Portugal to play.

All four travelled to the National Football Centre at St George’s Park, Burton, to take part in a Team England Day earlier this week before Donald and Liam set off for Poland.

Robert Grainey, homeless training centre co-ordinator at SAFC Foundation of Light, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for some of the trainees from the programme and we’re very proud of the fact they’ve been picked.

“They were selected for a whole range of reasons by the director of the Homeless FA because of their commitment and participation in the course.

“We’re sure it’s going to be a trip of a lifetime.

“They all now have an accredited qualification and some of them have gone on to do further qualifications while others have gone into employment.

“It has been a fantastic course and we’re very proud to be part of it.”