Belfast Telegraph

Fallen star O'Boyle says his troubled past helps keep today's kids safe

By Steven Beacom

Former Northern Ireland hero George O'Boyle has revealed how he is using his experiences of being embroiled in a drugs scandal to help teenagers on Belfast's Shankill Road.

O'Boyle, who famously scored a goal in a 1-1 draw with Germany at Windsor Park in 1996, is taking part in a Saturday night programme which aims to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, O'Boyle recalled the drugs scandal that wrecked his football career, explaining that he has turned those difficult times into a positive for young people in the area where he lives.

O'Boyle and then St Johnstone team-mate Kevin Thomas had their contracts terminated by the Scottish outfit in January 2001 after being found using cocaine at the club's Christmas party.

The case became the talk of football with the dismissals first overturned by the Scottish Premier League, before being upheld by the Scottish Football Association.

The ex-Distillery and Linfield ace went on to play for various Scottish sides as well as Glenavon and Ards, but his career never recovered from the controversy.

Now on the management team at Lisburn Distillery and running his own oven cleaning business, 49-year-old O'Boyle admits it was a tough period in his life and for his family.

He said: "It was big news back then and it was the first time I had to deal with Press sitting outside my house.

"Every time I turned on Sky Sports News it was there, and there was always someone having an opinion about it.

"It was difficult for my family as well, especially with me in Scotland and all of them back in Northern Ireland.

"I got through it in the end with the support and help of friends and family.

"That's the most important thing, and now I'm prepared to be there for others if they need help.

"I put my hands up, I was a silly boy and it shouldn't have happened, but hopefully by giving back with my experiences and explaining how easy it can be to fall into those sort of traps I'm in the perfect position to try and help kids and speak to them about it.

"I can tell them it is out there and I know from personal experience it can happen to you.

"It can ruin your career and it finished mine, so you try and be honest with them, outlining the dangers not just in a sporting aspect but a social aspect, talking about what damage it does to a family and stuff like that.

"I have no real sympathy for myself but what I hope to do is not shy away from it, and use it as a positive."

To that end O'Boyle, alongside Distillery boss Colin McIlwaine, runs a scheme every Saturday night for kids where they can play football and chat openly about any issues they have. O'Boyle said: "Colin and myself take a Saturday night programme on the Shankill and it is about taking kids off the street.

"I'm just a small part of it. We have anything from 30 to 50 kids from 7pm to 10pm playing football.

"We get a bus to come at 10 which takes them home and Colin does a lot of work trying to get funding for the project.

"If we can save one kid from getting into bother it is worth it.

"It's three hours of my time on a Saturday evening so it's not massive but it is good to be on board.

"The kids seem to enjoy it, which is what it's all about."

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