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To illustrate the value of the Homeless World Cup and the positive impact it has had on many former participants’ lives, FIFPro will publish several portraits of former players leading up to the start of this year’s event. Today's story is about Jeff Tossberg from Sweden.

Jeff Tossberg Mihai works for Gatans Lag, the Homeless World Cup National Partner in Sweden. After more than six years of coaching homeless players and now in an admin position, he has helped hundreds of people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse and social exclusion transform their lives. Football was the key to his own future after he became addicted to drugs at the age of 15.

“I became homeless when I was 19. At 23, I really thought my life was over.” he says. He had no social life, little contact with his family, and was trying to survive from day to day. A huge football fan as a child, Jeff heard about the training sessions in a homeless shelter and decided to go along.

“I knew that I could make the Swedish team for Melbourne 2008 because it’s not about how good you are at football, it’s about your personal development and the responsibility you take.” he explains. “But it meant that I had to stay clean for 18 months. Before I started playing, I couldn’t stay away from the drugs for more than two weeks, let alone keep a promise for 20 minutes!”

The sense of belonging to a team proved an invaluable source of support along the way. “I wasn’t alone anymore. There were others in the same situation who were determined to keep going in the right direction in life.”

As a result of his determination, he found himself on the other side of the world a year and a half later. “When I was 10, I watched the Swedish national team place third at the FIFA World Cup; now I was wearing the Swedish kit and singing the national anthem. It showed me that I could achieve my goals. I never believed that was possible.”

The Swedish team lost all their games save their final one that year, but that did not matter in the light of his achievement and sharing the experience with players from all over the globe. “If I had any thoughts about going back to a life of drugs, they were wiped out after I got back to Sweden. I was hungry for a new life.”

His potential as a role model did not go unnoticed, and only three weeks after his return, he was offered a coaching position with Gatans Lag. “I couldn’t believe that someone had faith in me, but they did. The first word that comes to mind when I think of coaching is ‘amazing’. It’s amazing to see these vulnerable people, unsure whether they will fit in, grow as people and players.”

After more than six years of coaching, Jeff moved on to a more administrative role within the organisation in order to make room for a new dedicated player-turned-coach. However, he keeps in touch with the players and will be travelling to the Amsterdam 2015 Homeless World Cup to support the team. “I still play football because it has given me so much over the past eight years. It works. I’d recommend it.”

HWC Jeff and Henk Larsson 640

Jeff Tossberg with Swedish football legend Henrik Larsson