Seven years ago Lou Macari read a newspaper article on the plight of the homeless in Stoke-on-Trent.

The former Celtic, Manchester United and Scotland footballer ventured out of his house and vowed to do something to help those less fortunate than himself. It was a life-changing, and life-affirming, decision. Indeed, Macari has never been the same since.

That fateful night he jumped into his car and drove into the city centre. There he found 11 rough sleepers huddled in shop doorways on a bitterly cold night. The irony of the number was not lost on him; it was enough people to form a football team.

The 73-year-old wanted to do everything he could to help those who found themselves homeless find somewhere to stay, stability and a platform to work towards building a better life.

From such humble beginnings, which involved Macari going to the council and pleading for the keys to an office building, the Macari Foundation was born.

The Macari Centre in Hanley has now been set up to provide support and accommodation to around 50 individuals who can enjoy four meals a day. The innovative centre houses individuals in pods¬†within a warehouse ‚Äėvillage‚Äô which gives them an address and a space of their own as well as¬†access to support from a team of trained staff 24 hours a day. Those who use the service are referred to as ‚Äėguests‚Äô.

A former Celtic boss, Macari is in a sense still involved in the management business. Only this time the game is not football - it's life itself.


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"About seven years ago I read that newspaper report about homelessness in Britain and I decided to do something about it," Macari told The Celtic Way. "It was actually about the plight of the homelessness in Stoke-on-Trent specifically.

"The figures that I read indicated that Stoke-on-Trent wasn't really that bad off for homeless people. Funnily enough, that day I had been up in the town centre and they were everywhere. I think the headline in the paper said Stoke had only 14 homeless people or something. I didn't agree with that at all - I thought 'what's going on here?'

"Bearing in mind I didn't know anything about homelessness, I just thought I needed to look into this a bit and just see why the picture was being painted that there were not so many homeless people in Stoke. I thought I could maybe do something to help the situation.

"I was completely naive as to what it was all about. I've been fortunate that I have never been homeless and never been in the position of having had to sleep rough or beg for money.

"I realised that I maybe could help in some way but I didn't know in what way. So I went to the council and I asked them to give me the keys to a building, any building, that was locked up. I told them I would open it again, make it presentable and look after some homeless people. It is easier said than done but I got the keys and I moved in with eight homeless people on that same night.

"I felt I could get food from various outlets in Stoke-on-Trent. I knew I could get clothes from the public. I knew I could put a roof over their heads so that's what I set out to do. I have done that.

"I try to get them back on track and get them back into a normal way of life. I can't do it for them, they've got to want to do it. If there's no incentive, then they haven't got any real desire to do it. It's not easy and it's getting tough but it is happening all over the country.

"If football players can become the player they want to be under the right guidance it's the same here: guests can become the person they want to be. We offer them the opportunity to get off the streets and we offer them a chance to rebuild their life, to turn everything around."

Addiction is often a root cause of the situation that many of his guests find themselves in. Nobody needs to tell Macari about the devastating effects drink, drugs, homelessness, gambling and domestic violence can have on any given person. The vices are soul-destroying. They can strip someone of their character, personality, self-worth and - above all else - their dignity.

Yet Macari's shelter remains open 24 hours a day. It never stops him from carrying out his good deeds despite the dangers that lurk within.

"The situation has gotten worse," he added. "You never know what's going to happen - some of the guests might be off their heads on a drug that you can't control. There's a drug here they call 'monkey dust' [a Class B psychoactive substance] and the consequences of taking that are crazy. I can't legislate for that.

"I've ended up scrapping and fighting with guests, disagreeing and arguing with them because we're open 24 hours a day - we're not open and just feeding the guests and then emptying them out into the streets again.

"I realise that it's the drugs with some of them. I know the real person and that's not the real person. The real person is far removed from the one with a dangerous drug inside of them that creates incidents or issues that on any given day or night can land them into trouble.

"I accept that but I've still got to try to deal with it. I do that in whatever way I can. We started all this off by simply trying to help the homeless as these people need our help. I don't think or believe for one minute that my involvement is going to solve all the problems because I know it's not. This is one of the worst situations Britain is in and I see it on a day-to-day basis.

Celtic Way:

"But they still need a bit of help, no matter how bad they've been. I've been witness to loads over the years with some guests being very nasty, rude and obnoxious... but they still need some guidance in life. If, out of that guidance, one or two of the 50 guests change their ways then it's all been worthwhile."

It's all a far cry from Macari's previous life as a footballer of some repute with Jock Stein's Celtic and then Manchester United and Scotland.

Yet for all his adulation, fame and hero worship on the park, the Macari family have suffered personal tragedy off it. Heartbreaking, gut-wrenching tragedy.

Macari's youngest son Jonathan died by suicide in 1999. He had been a footballer with Nottingham Forest and was 19 years of age. Despite that devastation, compassion burns brightly within Macari to drive him to devote all of his time to his homeless project and help others.

"My football life has been better than normal but we lost our son Jonathan and that gave me an indication as to how your life can be ruined," he said. "It was never going to be the same after that ever.

"Life is never going to be the same for the guests we've got here either. They've started off with a family, they've got mothers and fathers and you know some of those mothers and fathers have probably had enough and couldn't cope with them and that's why they are where they are in life.

"I'm at Old Trafford every game doing my media commitments and then I come back and I walk into that shelter and I've gone from one extreme to the other.

"I've gone from watching three or four hundred grand a week English Premier League footballers to guests in the homeless shelter who have nothing. People literally asking me for two quid as they are on benefits. It's a clash and contrast of cultures in those two worlds, isn't it?

Celtic Way: Macari scores against Rangers in 1972Macari scores against Rangers in 1972 (Image: SNS)

"If these people are on the street there are others abusing them, kicking them, spitting on them and they can sometimes appear the next day with bruises all over their face. The difference between those two worlds is unreal but, again, they still need our help.

"A lot of people have had more than one setback so again you try to get through it. You convince yourself that you're not as bad off as other people. That's not me saying you can in any way recover from losing a child because you can't. You cannot get over that. It will never leave me."

Macari concedes he doesn't have all the answers but at least he tries to provide solutions. He knows at times he is fighting something of a losing battle - but that won't deter him from fighting the good fight.

His charity work has seen him granted audiences at Downing Street and he even has a date with King Charles at Buckingham Palace on May 9. All that means is he has another chance to ask some awkward questions of those in exalted and privileged positions. Questions such as 'what more can be done?'

"People ask me this question all the time: who do you blame?" Macari said. "I don't know, who should you blame? I don't know where to start because I just don't know how you solve it The most important thing I'd like to know is how I can really contribute.

"If it was money, I'd go and get it. I'd get money from people. If it was something else I'd go and get it. Nobody's guiding me on what's required to try to solve the whole thing but as a result of it all the work we do I've been to Downing Street and I've been to Boris (Johnson's) house.

"Somebody said to me 'would you like to go to Downing Street?' and I said 'well, why not? I've never been before and I probably never will be again'. 


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"I've also now been invited to Buckingham Palace on May 9 to meet the king. They said 'how would you like to go to Buckingham Palace?' and I'll go - but I'll be asking pertinent questions as to why it's like this.

"I was asking politicians the same questions at Downing Street too - and then they started quizzing me. I thought 'wait a minute I'm here to ask you the questions not the other way around'. I've asked where the solution is but, of course, they haven't got a solution.

"There are people with these strange ideas about how everything's going to change overnight but this is a long process. It's a long haul. I've been involved with the homeless for seven years now and it is a never-ending process but you do what you can do to help, don't you?"

Every modern-day footballer at every elite club in Britain could benefit from spending a day walking in Macari's shoes - or at least listening to him. If they did they would encounter real compassion, empathy and humility. It would be an education.

Lou Macari never walked alone in Paradise as a Celtic player. He then strutted his stuff in the Theatre of Dreams for Manchester United.

But Macari was never born to be a Red Devil; the Scotsman's homelessness crusade marks him out more as an angel. He is the patron saint of Stoke's homeless.

For more information on the Macari Foundation or how you can donate to the charitable cause, log on to macari-foundation.co.uk