EMMERSON Boyce has never been one to court the headlines.
Look up the term ‘unsung hero’ in the dictionary and you’ll probably find a picture of the Wigan Athletic defender in action.
Getting the job done with the minimum of fuss – the 32-year-old has made a career out of it.
Which is why, while some of his contemporaries spent the summer making headlines for the wrong reasons, Boyce spent a chunk of the off-season in the USA doing his bit to help the homeless.
Street Soccer USA (SSUSA) is a sport for development programme of HELP USA, who believe ending homelessness is a team sport.
And alongside other sporting stars from around the globe – like NBA legend Steve Nash – Boyce admits his charity work across the pond is as important to him as his Premier League endeavours.
“Street Soccer USA basically helps the homeless, providing shelter and the opportunity for people to re-focus and get their lives back on track,” Boyce told me after returning to pre-season training with Latics.
“We try to do this through football – giving them a team to be part of, being exposed to team ethics, and feeling that they are valued and showing them that other people care about them.
“I first got involved through a friend who told me about it.
“They asked me did I want to go over and play in a game, and I said yes straightaway.
“The first time I went I was supposed to spend half an hour with them – I ended up spending half the day there playing football with them.
“You hear about their stories and what they’ve had to go through, at such a young age sometimes, and you can’t not want to help.
“Three years later, I’m still part of the scheme.”
Boyce has rubbed shoulders with some of the best in the business during his long stint in the Premier League. But even he admits he became star-struck when he met up with some of his fellow volunteers.
“I had the great honour this time of playing in the Steve Nash Foundation game,” he explains. “Steve Nash is just massive over there. He’s a legendary basketball player obviously, but the work he’s done off the court is even more impressive.
“I’m just privileged to be a small part of it as well, and hopefully that will continue.
“It’s an opportunity for us, not to show off our talents, but to give a little bit back to the people who are working so hard to make a difference.
“I also managed to score a couple of goals in the game, which was nice.”
Finding the back of the net is an increasingly common occurrence for Boyce, who bagged three goals in the last four games of last term as Latics ended the campaign on a high.
However, he insists any feeling of success on the field is nothing to the pride he felt when seeing one product of the scheme defy the odds and graduate from college earlier this year.
“I managed to get over there in time to see it, and that meant a lot to me,” Boyce added. “To see the look on his face – when he realised that someone from the Premier League in England, on the other side of the world, who most people would assume wouldn’t care about someone like him – managed to make the trip over to see him graduate, that was special.
“It’s just small things like that. There’s no money involved, no egos, it’s just showing other people you care about them.
“I’ve seen many people come and go, and it’s just great to hear about the success stories along the way.
“I’m not saying I’m a superstar or anything, but the gratitude on their faces when they have people wanting to help them is amazing.
“Hopefully that gives them all a bit of a lift and, from my point of view, it’s a great honour to be able to call some of them friends.”
Boyce also admits his work in the States has allowed him to spread the Wigan Athletic word to a whole new audience.
“Yeah, I’ve converted a few of them into Wigan fans, there are a few shirts over there as a result of me being there,” he laughs.
“The chairman needs to know I’m doing his job for him so I can get some commission or something!
“But seriously it’s great to go over to the other side of the world and see people talking about Wigan. And it can only help the club in terms of raising awareness of the Wigan Athletic brand.”