Everyday heroes

Photo by Yogendra Singh on Pexels.com

Some people you meet in life seem to have the power to reach out and touch your soul.

These people often inspire you; they may even trigger that aha! moment; and they rarely fail to deliver a master class in flowing through life with ease and grace.

I’m very happy to report meeting several such people recently during a trip to the Republic of Ireland.

I actually find it often happens that way: when I’m detached from my day-to-day routine – and especially away from the emails – where I have the opportunity to listen and speak to people; real, authentic people…

These people have a glint in their eye when they talk – passionately, modestly and with a sense of gratefulness – about themselves and what it is that they do.

I was in Ireland to contribute to a study group on the positive attributes of football programmes that have been established to help with the integration of refugees.

The people we met were involved in these programmes, either as a participant or provider (coach, educator, administrator, etc.).

Though they differed in age, ethnicity, and life experiences, I’d like to focus on one similarity: the ability of these few good men to touch us all so deeply.

Here’s a bit about them. I’ve changed their names to avoid any unintended offence.


James is the chairman of a local football club. He is a rugged man; rough around the edges one might say, but with a magnetic personality and great sense of humour to boot.

James grew up in the vicinity of the club and has seen a great deal of change in the nationality of residents in the area over the years. He unwittingly assured us of his conviction to equality and integration with little nuggets like this: “In Ireland we refer to people who don’t originate from our country as a ‘non-nationals’. I don’t. I refer to them as my neighbours.”


Connor also grew up near the club and coached there before he was recognised for his talent and appointed as a coach for the Football Association of Ireland.

His weather-beaten face surely defied his age but not the amount of time he’d spent out in the elements. He stood in front of us in his worn out FAI tracksuit and explained how football – pure, unadulterated football – can be the catalyst for integration in places like this.

While he told us his story, he would occasionally look towards the ground in modesty, rubbing together his leather-like hands as if it were colder inside than out. We could all tell that he wanted to get back out there and do what he loves to do.


Amir was forcibly displaced from his home in Iran. He made it to Ireland, where he claimed asylum and was granted refugee status. He lives in Galway, in one of the 34 refugee centres that house some 4,000 refugees across Ireland.

Amir looked in his late teens or early twenties and clearly took great care over the way he looked. His short cut sides were tapered up to slick black hair and his beard was sculpted down to a pointed tip underneath his chin, which he stroked with glee as he told us how much he looks forward to playing football every week.

He often referred to “the lads” in the Centre and how playing football had provided some structure to his and their days. The colloquialism stood out when spoken with a thick Persian accent, and is testament to the time and effort put in by FAI coaches.

He then confidently went on to tell us about his intention to join the nearby tech school to earn a qualification that would secure him a job to give back to those in Ireland who have helped him.


Hussein was grabbed off of the futsal court and stood patiently, sweating, and ensuring that his quiff was in place, before being given his turn to speak to us.

A teenager from Syria, Hussein plays a central role in this video that was shown to us after he spoke.

His gratitude was clear for all to see. He had learned English while studying on a programme in Ballaghaderreen that combined language tuition with football.

His face beamed when he told us that this was the first time he’d spoken in English to so many people. It beamed even more when he was given the pat on the back signifying it was okay to get back to his team, who were losing 2-1 when he left them.


Phillip appeared and spoke like a friendly giant, who seemed slightly worn by a full and happy life; content with the knowledge that he has, and still is, helping to make a difference.

He is a retired English teacher, who helps refugees in Ireland by providing English lessons. He spends two months each year in Greece, volunteering for the Irish Red Cross to help the refugees arriving from overseas.


Frank had his woolly hat and knee-length football coat on for most of the time he was with us. He was smaller and older than Phillip, their contrast obvious as they stood next to each other. He is responsible for maintaining and hiring out indoor football pitches in Ballaghaderreen.

He told us that, since there is limited space available, there has been a strict rule that only children be given the playing space during the winter months (which I sensed tends to be most of the year in Ballaghaderreen!). 

However, when Phillip told Frank about the refugee programme and the organisers’ search for an indoor football venue, he realised that there was only one right decision. Despite the fact that some of the refugees were essentially young adults, Frank decided that it was time to make an exception to the long-standing rule.

It’s people like Phillip and Frank that form part of the equation that enables good things to happen in our world.

These few good men – seemingly ‘ordinary’ in the way they looked, their peculiarities and nervous tendencies brought to light when speaking in public – are people you would walk past on the street without giving them a second’s thought.

I found it hugely uplifting to be reminded that, although you rarely hear about them, these everyday heroes walk among us. They are quietly going about their business – rarely seeking praise or recognition – contributing to society, and making a positive difference wherever their skills are most valued.

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