I met with the brilliantly named Pablo Rosendo de León Custodio on Sunday and we headed down to Tirasses for a game. Pablo is a missionary from Guatemala , and an absolute gentleman, who has been working in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in San Jose for over 4 years. Tirasses is such an area. Most people here earn a living by picking through the huge rubbish dump nearby for recyclable materials. They are known as Buzos (divers). The pitch we played on today, Rio Azure (Blue River) is built on part of the dump. Arriving at Tirasses, we met with the dreadlocked Nelson Paez, a huge Bob Marley fan, top bloke and community volunteer. Nelson and Pablo have worked closely with the young people of the town for a number of years, helping them with their school work, teaching practical skills for life and running a football team. Without their intervention, and the team of volunteers they work alongside, these young people would have no support. Almost all of them will have to leave Tirasses if they want secure employment and to build a life for themselves.
At around 11am, we gathered a group of lads together who Nelson and Pablo had been working with. 5 v 5 in very hot and humid conditions. There were some brilliant players on show. On my side, Antonio stuck to the wing and reminded me of Neymar; brilliant close control, skill, vision and speed. You know a good player because they always seem to have time on the ball. Ariel was a serious box to box midfielder, playing as if in front of 50,000 people. Keilor (known as The Bullet) was the maverick; the Gazza, the Worthington or the Best. He was a brilliant player who had an inert hunger for the game, always trying the extraordinary. Alberto was the cool guy, drifting through the game being quietly affective like a Carrick or a Whelan. Then there was some joker in the nets making up the numbers :-) Despite having such a good team, we were quickly 4-2 down. Nelson, on their side, was brilliant with the lads, tripping them up and rugby tackling them if they got past him. You could tell all the lads really respected him. Pablo was performing heroics in their nets; some brilliant stretches for such a diminutive chap. Finally we got our act together. Antonio and The Bullet went into overdrive and brought the game back level. The heat was starting to take its toll, especially on the opposition. We scored a couple more to make it 6-4 and the game came to a natural end through sheer exhaustion.
As we drifted back into the town, I couldn't help but think about the tough struggle those boys now faced. Thankfully, there are incredibly hardworking, kind and caring volunteers all of the world like Pablo and Nelson, providing hope where there was none.