Not Your Average Joe

THERE is a moment every morning when life pauses for Joe Mearns.

“I wake up and look forward to the day and then stop to see if I am still dreaming,” says the 22-year-old. There is a simple reason for his brief feeling that his life has strained belief. Joe is working for the club he loves, doing a job he loves.

“I just can’t keep the smile off my face,” he says. “This is the happiest I have ever been. I have never wanted anything else. This is a dream come true.” The last sentence may be a cliché but no one listening to Joe can doubt his sincerity.

He is a remarkable young man with an extraordinary story. He reaches for a cup of tea with his foot and proceeds to tell the tale of a life that has reached a wonderful fulfilment despite a profound disability.

“I was born with no arms,” Joe says simply. “I also have scoliosis of the spine.” He has become fantastically adept with his feet, working his phone between two toes as we speak. “My mum put things between my toes since a young age so I can do everything. The family even ask me to sort the computer out when they can’t.”

But Joe found that all his graft, his willingness to overcome hurdles and his strength of spirit could not quite find him a job. Then came Celtic FC Foundation’s Cashback Gateway to Employment project.

“I was told about it at the Job Centre,” says Joe who lives in Tollcross with his mum, dad, brother and sister.

“I came along and was determined to get a place on the project and a job,” he says. He was given his chance. He took it with a sureness that would befit Henrik Larsson.

The project ended in November and Joe now works 16 hours a week at Celtic Park as a Community Coach.

Allan Campbell, Employability Coordinator at Celtic FC Foundation, states simply: “Joe has been outstanding. He is always on time, always gives his best.”

For Joe, the job has bolstered his confidence. “I am now much better at talking to people,” he says. “When I was younger, I bothered about people looking at me. But I do not worry now and I tell other kids that, especially the ones with disabilities. You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it.”

Joe’s commitment is unfailing. “I have always given 100 per cent. I am aiming to stay on. My contract ends in October and hopefully I will get kept on. I will do everything to make it possible.”

Joe, a season ticket holder at Celtic Park, walks past his seat as he skirts the park en route to his work. He stays on after his allotted hours and has been known to indulge in his love for the club.

“When Allan takes a group on a tour, I sneak in behind him. I have been round a million times but I still enjoy it. This is the club I support and I love learning about it.”

Joe’s family are rightfully proud of him. His mum is a home help and his dad works night shift as a hospital cleaner. “They keep saying to me that I am the only person in the world that goes to their work with a smile on their face,” says Joe with his trademark grin. “This is the happiest I have ever been. I set myself a goal and I achieved it. I am proud of that.” His brother and sister, too, are impressed by the lad who does not let anything dent his will to succeed in life.

But Joe’s story is not just one of personal success. He is aware that he is now helping others. His disability gives him an empathy with some of the children who come to his coaching classes. They have various challenges and Joe says: “I understand them a bit more. I know where they are coming from. There was a kid who has Down’s Syndrome and she told her mum that she wanted to do football, not dancing, because I understood her. She said: ‘He just gets me, he knows how to help me’.”

He adds: “I suppose I just had patience with her. Perhaps she looked at me and thought that I had my problems and come through them.”

Perhaps, she was simply inspired. It is hard not to be when one is in the company of Joe Mearns.