Teen prodigy back on the pitch
When Richard Clemens first trotted out onto the pitch of George Jay elementary school this spring, he was shocked to find the fledgling Victoria Street Soccer organization was playing on grass.
“A lot of us (took it literally). I didn’t know what to expect,” Clemens said.
“Now apparently I’ve been chosen for the Homeless World Cup. Thank God for this,” he said.
In just four months the group has bonded into a tight-knit team, all based on the simple principles of being a positive place for people who face homelessness or transition housing, or are at risk of or deal with mental health or addiction issues.
Prior to the group’s weekly Sunday afternoon practice (now at Vic High), organizer Katie DeRosa announced 37-year-old Clemens as one of eight players selected by Team Canada to go to the 2011 Homeless World Cup in Paris this August.
It drew cheers and a round of high-fives for the humble Clemens. “This is what it’s all about,” said the one-time Gordon Head soccer prodidgy.
“Pele came from the slums of Brazil. Soccer gets down to the roots of community and people are tapping into that.”
VSS recently took on the name Victoria Dreams and, with split squads, finished second and eighth at the Western Canadian Street Soccer Championships in Vancouver, June 4 and 5, despite not knowing the street soccer rules.
It was a breakout weekend for Clemens. He filled the net with goals and was scouted by Team Canada.
It’s meant a return to meaningful soccer after 20 years away from it.
“Back then I was even checked out by Team Canada,” Clemens said. “The pinnacle of my soccer was probably men’s second division, just after winning the Colonist Cup (high school city championship) with Spectrum and Mt. Doug, about 1990 and 1991.”
At that time Clemens was a top striker in B.C. for his age group.
It’s been a lifetime since then, though Clemens isn’t looking to dwell on it. As a young adult Clemens started couch surfing from one friend’s place to the next, and soon ran out of options.
“It’s all good now, I don’t need to go into that. I’m actually a very positive person, trying to stay that way.”
DeRosa started the Victoria team after she read about a street team being set up in Ottawa and reading about Street Soccer Canada, she said.
“I decided there should be a team in Victoria, which has year-round soccer-playing weather and a large homeless population.”
Rick Sweeney is a regular with the Dreams. He’s been through the hard times and loves seeing Clemens grow as a person since meeting him a few months ago.
“This is what street soccer is for, someone who played as a kid and is finding the game after time away from it,” Sweeney said. “You just want to get back into the swing of things and this is perfect for Clemens.”