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Homeless World Cup returns with all-British contest

After two cancelled global tournaments, homeless football is coming home to Edinburgh this weekend. We speak to the players to find out how the beautiful game changes lives

The Premier League may be back in full swing but, for football players experiencing homelessness, the wait has felt endless. The Four Nations Challenge Cup brings players together in Edinburgh this weekend, the first tournament of its kind and a full 777 days since a ball was last kicked at 2019’s Homeless World Cup.

Since the 2019 tournament at Cardiff’s Bute Park proved a Michael Sheen-powered success, Covid-19 has blown the final whistle on the annual Homeless World Cup tournament with plans to play in Tampere, Finland, put on ice.

Players with experience of homelessness will have the chance to taste tournament football once more at Edinburgh’s Mound Precinct when men and women’s teams from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales compete in a round-robin tournament on September 18 and 19. 

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“For us it’s always about the frontline work, this is what it’s about: the players. We know they’ve missed the opportunity of coming together. It’s a bit like a family for them and psychologically, that’s huge,” Mel Young, the co-founder of the Homeless World Cup, told The Big Issue. “So the fact we’re able to put something on, albeit a much smaller event, is very important.

“We’re coming out with a pandemic and we want to try and do things so this is an attempt by us to just say: “Hey, we’re we’re still here, we’re still doing things”.

“Football can be a real force for good. We’ve got plenty of examples of how it’s changed people’s lives, just by getting involved in it. This is the UK coming together and we hope we’ll have our international event back next year.”

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For players who have waited years to represent their country and grace the pitch, the tournament is a momentous occasion. The Big Issue caught up with players from all nations to find out why playing football has a transformative effect on their lives.

Homeless World Cup
Carole Melville will be representing Scotland at the Four Nations Challenge Cup. Image: Homeless World Cup

Carole Melville, 54, Street Soccer Scotland

“I was not in a good place when I joined Street Soccer Scotland four years ago and I had been homeless for a while. I was fostered when I was younger and left home several times. When I got older it was just me and I moved from place to place. I went to my first training with Street Soccer Scotland and I’ve never looked back. I’ve made so many friends, I’ve been to India, had so many amazing opportunities – it feels like someone has always got your back.     

“When you’re playing football you forget about absolutely everything, it’s great to help you switch off and feel good. It was really hard at the start of the pandemic because the only thing I was getting up for was my football. It’s horribly not seeing your friends and participating. 

“I’ve got a one-bedroom house now and I want to keep playing football to build up my confidence and my learning so that I can be in a place where I can go to work.

“I’m excited but nervous to play this weekend – a lot of people are going to be watching but I just want to do my best. I’ve never played in a Homeless World Cup before so it’s a privilege to represent my country. It’s amazing.

“When I’m playing they call me The Fly because I am always on someone. You don’t have to be a footballer to get involved, you can just come along and enjoy it.”

Homeless World Cup Wales
Lloyd Jones is a relative newcomer to Street Football Wales but is excited to represent his country at the Four Nations Challenge Cup. Image: Homeless World Cup

Lloyd Jones, 22, Street Football Wales

“I got involved with Street Football Wales through a friend of a friend – he’s been playing for quite a while now. He introduced me to his support worker and they got me involved three months ago – I haven’t looked back ever since. It’s really good.

“Physically and mentally, it’s been doing me so much good. I know that I have something to look forward to every week. That makes you feel so much better in yourself. I’m really happy where I am.”

“I was homeless from the age of 17 to the age of 20. It was pretty rough but with the good comes the bad and the bad comes the good. If you see the light at the end of the tunnel you have to go for it and I ran for it. Now I’m living in Merthyr Tydfil and I’ve had accommodation there for the last 18 months.

“Now I just want to stick to being part of the team and attend any tournaments and events I can. I’m very determined on the pitch, very brave and very positive and I’m a good team player. I’ll pull my weight.

“I’m feeling very confident and very excited about playing at the tournament. I’m expecting a good competition and team spirit among our guys. Representing my country means a lot to me, it’s absolutely amazing. Being on the frontline representing the country I love in the sport I love is just brilliant. I won’t let my country down.”

Louise and Ryan Homeless World Cup
Louise (pictured with fellow Street Soccer NI player Ryan) is relishing the tournament after spending the pandemic in a hostel. Image: Homeless World Cup

Louise, 41, Street Soccer Northern Ireland

“I became homeless after a break-up and three of my children and I moved into a homeless hostel and a year later a flyer came through for Street Soccer. I was always very sporty whenever I was younger so I called the number and I went to training that night and that was it. I was 38 when I started playing football – that’s old – but it’s great for fitness and I suffer from arthritis and fibromyalgia so exercise gives me something else to focus on. Look at me now – I’m going to represent my country.

“The pandemic was a nightmare. I’m someone who needs a routine, especially because me and the kids are in a hostel and have been for three years. That was very hard and really frustrating for the kids – they didn’t see their daddy for the first couple of months in the pandemic. We do have a little bit of outside space – it’s more of a car park than anything. My youngest son and I were kicking a ball about down there because he couldn’t get to his training and I couldn’t get to mine. When Street Soccer said we could train again it was like my Christmas and birthday all at once. I was counting the days at the start of the summer because I couldn’t wait to get back. 

“I’m a mum of six and my dream is to get a house big enough to have my kids settled. I know I struggle in the hostel, but my kids probably find it harder than I do. That’s why the football is important. It’s the social aspect because it lets me get out and have an adult conversation.

“I missed out on the Homeless World Cup due to Covid and that was heart-breaking so this is the first time I’ll have been away with Street Soccer. I’m really excited to be away with my Street Soccer family.”

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