If Lionel Messi so wished, he could convert his glittering new Floridian mansion into an unrivalled temple of footballing memorabilia.
There would be winners’ medals from the World Cup, four Champions Leagues, 11 league titles across Spain and France, seven ballon d’Or’s, six golden shoes and 15 Argentine Player of the Year trophies amid a shirt collection that reads like a who’s who of the game’s modern greats.
The newest exhibit in this museum however would come from the hand of a janitor from Larbert after the footballer’s sons picked out a canvas featuring the player on his debut for new club Inter Miami.
The painting created by elementary school custodian Joseph Gormley caught the eye of Thiago, Mateo and Ciro Messi when a friend of the 48-year-old passed it on to the Barcelona legend’s new next door neighbour.
Messi, who joined the MLS club from Paris Saint Germain in the summer, signed three of Joseph’s paintings, which are now set to be auctioned off to raise money for local schools and a university in the Fort Lauderdale area.
“I have a friend who is an art collector and her best friend is effectively Messi’s next door neighbour in his new house,” Joseph told STV News.
“So she took them round, I wasn’t there, but she said they were delighted with them. His three little boys chose the one they kept.
“I did offer a family portrait, but they were really happy with the one they chose. To have artwork, this wee guy from Larbert who is a janitor at an elementary school here, hanging in Messi’s house, it’s just surreal.”
Joseph, who moved to Florida in 2003 after meeting American wife Erin in Scotland, only began painting 11 years ago when he received an art set for Christmas.
However his hidden talent has led to collaborations with the likes of basketball stars Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neill as well as Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
The lifelong Celtic fan began by painting then-manager Neil Lennon, selling it off to pay the medical bills of a young girl struggling with serious illness.
His works have since raised more than $300,000 for local organisations, but Joseph hopes to raise $1m for good causes before hanging up his brush.
“My wife bought me a paint set for Christmas because I was a terrible fisherman,” he joked.
“I did four paintings of Messi in the Miami shirts. One went to the family, one to a High School in Ft Lauderdale for their sports, one went to the Florida Gators University to raise money for women’s health, and I kept one of them.
“I’m working on another one of Messi now in an Argentina shirt and I’ve been going around getting lots of people to paint on it; police officers, firefighters, a few local celebrities, I want it to be a gift to him from the people of Florida.”
Joseph had never painted before moving across the Atlantic, but his philanthropic efforts touched the local community in Florida in the aftermath of the 2018 Parklands High School shooting.
He gifted several works to the families of 17 people who lost their lives in the attack, a tragedy which brought back painful memories from his time working as a porter at the former Falkirk Royal Infirmary during the Dunblane school shooting 22 years earlier.
He now sees his own daughters, Hailey, seven, and McKenzie Rose, five, every day while cleaning classrooms and said there were striking similarities in the community response to both incidents.
“I work at an elementary, I’m like Groundskeeper Willie,” he laughed.
“It keeps me humble. I’ve been painting with Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neill, Steven Tyler, but the next day I’m back mopping up after kids, cleaning classrooms.
“You see things in those situations that make you appreciate life.
“In both situations, the community was brought to its feet in the way they rallied round. And one day, in the same way that Andy Murray reclaimed Dunblane, someone from Parklands will go on and do something incredible with their lives.
“I think that with what I do as well. I’m just a janitor and now I have a painting hanging in Messi’s house.
“If I can inspire one person to pick up a paintbrush who might not have done it otherwise then it is worth it.”
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