Pride, passion in playing for Tassie

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WHEN Marcus Prentice pulled on a Tasmanian jersey, he couldn't have been prouder to represent his home state. 

It wasn't the World Cup, the A-league or even club soccer. 

It was the  Big Issue 's Street Football Festival -  a program pulling together Australia's homeless, disadvantaged and marginalised to help build confidence through football.

''The thing about our street football program, it's a great way for people to forget about things for a little while,'' Mr Prentice said. ``It's amazing how a simple round ball makes a lot of difference.''

He was born in Hobart and grew up at Wynyard before heading to the ``big bad mainland'' aged 21.

The times were tough and he spent five years living on the streets of Sydney.

''It's pretty difficult -  it taught me a lot of things about how I live my life now,'' he said.

''It can be dangerous: a lot of people saw us as easy targets for assault.''

He looked for work during this time but his openness about being homeless was a barrier that most employers couldn't overcome.

Then in 1997 he saw a man outside a Melbourne train station selling the  Big Issue  -  a fortnightly magazine sold mainly by homeless people.

''I signed up the following week and 16 years, 425 editions later I'm still going,'' he said.

Seven years ago he became involved in the  Big Issue  street soccer program. 

The program, which also operates in Hobart, provides weekly training sessions to give marginalised people the chance to get together in a safe environment, play soccer and make new friends.

In 2010 the magazine launched the Street Football Festival in Sydney, where it is now held each year on the Australia Day weekend.

Last year Mr Prentice got the call-up for his home state. 

''The medal I have at home says `Tasmania representative'. It's something I will  always cherish,'' he said.

This year will see a joint Tasmania and ACT team including two young Afghan refugees from Hobart. 

The Hobart program has engaged 250 participants including many asylum seekers since it started in 2010.

Anyone is invited to participate at the Moonah Indoor Sports Centre between 1.30pm and 3.30pm every Tuesday. 

pbillings@examiner.com.au

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