Football has an inimitable power to bring people together no matter who they are and where they’re from, and no more was this evident than at a Street Soccer Tournament held last Friday at Port Phillip Prison in conjunction with the Big Issue.
Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) was given the unique opportunity to follow one of its own in Rodrigo Vargas, former Melbourne Victory defender and PFA Heroes Program Mentor, as he continued his positive transition from professional football to creating hope and opportunities for others from all backgrounds in the community.

Rodrigo’s role involves working with the Big Issue on their Street Soccer initiatives, including coaching and mentoring inmates at Port Phillip Prison and the Metropolitan Remand Centre (MRC) on a regular basis, helping the facilities impart positive communication, teamwork and social skills to help inmates make a successful transition to the wider community upon their release.

The PFA has long been committed to using football as a means to making a meaningful difference in the community, and in achieving this, delivering our members the opportunity to advance their personal and professional development  ‘off the field’.

Rodrigo’s story so far sets a great example, and his commitment and dedication to the PFA Heroes Program while he was still playing professional football has helped him develop the skills to successfully pursue a career giving back and helping others following his retirement from the professional game.

As a PFA Heroes Program Mentor, Rodrigo’s tasks involved mentoring the same group of ‘at risk’ school children over an entire term at a time, and it is this in particular that Rodrigo claims has taught him a great deal about making genuine and ongoing connections through values based learning and development programs.

“The PFA Heroes program has been instrumental in helping me understand the positive influence professional athletes can have on marginalized or disadvantaged people in the community.

The experience and skills I developed from the program have gone a long way in helping me further my career off the field”.

PFA President Simon Colosimo, who continues to be involved across all PFA Community Programs, spoke about how such programs can effectively help footballers in preparing for life after football.

“I have seen first-hand the skills and benefits players draw from being involved with initiatives such as the PFA Heroes Program; communication, leadership, confidence, and in all cases a genuine desire to want to help others.  It comes as no surprise to me to hear that Roddy, who excelled in his Heroes mentoring role, has taken his experiences with him and used them to help him make a smooth transition from the professional game”.

The Big Issue Street Soccer initiative holds training sessions for inmates at Port Phillip Prison every week, which culminate with a tournament every 3 months.

Last Friday was Rodrigo’s 4th tournament at Port Phillip Prison, and upon PFA arriving inside the Marlborough Unit alongside Rodrigo and George Halkias of the Big Issue, the work that had been done prior to the PFA’s visit was clear, as the inmates warmly greeted ‘Roddy’ and respectfully welcomed PFA’s Adam Vivian and Nathan Meade as their guests.

Six 5-a-side teams were chosen, including ‘Marlborough Red’ led by Rodrigo and several teams comprising a mixture of inmates, security staff, representatives from the Department of Human Services (DHS), Origin Energy and PFA.

Respect, fair play and teamwork exuded throughout a well-spirited and competitive tournament, culminating in a formal trophy presentation to the eventual winners, Marlborough Blue (and a respectable third place finish for PFA).

The PFA would like to thank George Halkias at the Big Issue, and particularly the staff of Port Phillip Prison for allowing the PFA access to closely follow Rodrigo’s journey and permission to film within their facility with the help of Ralph Barba of Four Diegos Media.

A vidcast covering the community work of Rodrigo since his transition from professional football will be uploaded to the PFA website in the coming weeks.