Film

The Beautiful Game: Everything you need to know about Netflix's new Homeless World Cup film

The Netflix film starring Bill Nighy is introducing a whole new audience to the Homeless World Cup. If you’re new to the annual football tournament, we’ve got you covered

Colin Farrell with the Scottish team, holding a football

HWC ambassador Colin Farrell with the Scottish team in Amsterdam, 2015. Image: Paul Bence

If you’re used to watching elite football then the Homeless World Cup might have passed you by – but Netflix’s The Beautiful Game is about to change all that.

The new film, starring Bill Nighy, Callum Scott Howells and Micheal Ward, is making its way on to the streaming service giving millions of people the chance to learn about the annual football tournament with a difference.

If you’re new to the tournament, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know. 

Is the Homeless World Cup real?

Yes! The idea of people who have experienced homelessness representing their nation and competing in a football tournament might seem like it’s come straight from the brain of a Hollywood script writer but it’s a real thing that happens every year.

So, what is the Homeless World Cup?

In many ways, the Homeless World Cup is like the World Cup everyone will be familiar with. Teams from all over the world play each other at football and it’s competitive too – there are trophies up for grabs.

But that’s where the Homeless World Cup becomes a whole new ball game. While whoever scores the most goals is still important, the tournament has other aims. The sense of belonging, the pride in representing your country and the fun and shared experience of playing football uses the sport as a vehicle for change, giving someone the opportunity to make positive changes to their life.

Many of the teams from the Homeless World Cup’s 70 member countries are drawn from players who sell street papers like the Big Issue around the world.

The Homeless World Cup was first held just over 20 years ago in Graz in 2003 and was most recently held in Sacramento last year – the first tournament to be held in the United States

Mel Young
Mel Young. Credit: Alayah Quinn, Mile 44

The idea for the Homeless World Cup came from Harald Schmied and Mel Young and has grown a lot since its inaugural tournament in Austria. Organisers the Homeless World Cup Foundation have helped more than 1.2 million people change their lives through the power of football since 2003.

There have been 18 tournaments, with Covid enforcing a four-year break between 2019 and 2023. Teams have taken to the pitch in Edinburgh and Cardiff as well as a host of big cities around the world including Cape Town in South Africa, on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and under the Eiffel Tower in Paris in France.

The 2024 tournament will take place in South Korea capital Seoul on 21-28 September this year. It’s the first time the Homeless World Cup will be played in Asia.

The tournament is free to watch for spectators and the matches are streamed over YouTube for people to view around the world.

Homeless World Cup
The Homeless World Cup was held in the United State of America for the first time in its 20-year history in 2023. Image: Dan Higginson

Who has won the Homeless World Cup the most times?

The Homeless World Cup is for both men and women and each game consists of two seven-minute halves with a one-minute interval.

The games take place on a smaller pitch than the 11-a-side professional game with each team required to bring a full team of eight players while only four can be on the pitch at any time.

There are no draws in the Homeless World Cup with a tie decided by a sudden death penalty shoot-out. Penalties are taken from the halfway line with players allowed to approach the goalkeeper before shooting.

Tournaments can be goalfests: there was an average of 10 goals a game at the Sacramento 2023 tournament with 2,276 goals scored over 232 games.

Mexico has been the dominant force traditionally.

The Mexicans have won the Homeless World Cup men’s tournament the most times with four victories. But they missed out on success in 2023 with Chile beating them in the final for a third title.

There are not many instances where Scotland can claim to be on a par with Brazil but the Homeless World Cup is one of them – both nations have won the male tournament twice.

Mexico is even more dominant in the women’s category and has won the title eight times, including last year in Sacramento.

The only other nations to win the women’s title are Chile, Kenya, Brazil and Zambia who have one victory each.

Bill Nighy and Micheal Ward in Netflix film The Beautiful Game. Image: Netflix
Bill Nighy and Micheal Ward star in Netflix film The Beautiful Game. Image: Netflix

Is Netflix’s The Beautiful Game a true story?

It’s not – there has never been a Homeless World Cup in Rome, where the film is set, for example. The closest we’ve got is Milan in 2009.

But the film is based on many of the inspiring life-changing stories of real-life players.

The Beautiful Game is not the first time that Hollywood glitz and glamour has crossed over with the Homeless World Cup. A-list actor Colin Farrell has previously been an ambassador while Michael Sheen is a current representative and played a huge part in Cardiff hosting the tournament in 2019 – even putting in his own money.

Other famous supporters include Rio Ferdinand, Lewis Hamilton, Prince William, Eric Cantona and Sir Alex Ferguson, according to organisers.

Did former Manchester United player Bebé play at the Homeless World Cup?

Remember Bebé? The former Manchester United player has had a bit of a resurgence this year after scoring this belter for Cape Verde at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

Before he made the remarkable switch from Lisbon’s streets to an underwhelming career at Old Trafford, it was widely reported that Bebé had played at the Homeless World Cup. 

However, this is not true. In fact, he wasn’t even picked for Portugal’s Homeless World Cup team.

He did impress at the European Street Football Festival held in Bosnia and Herzegovina back in 2009 after being selected to play by Associação CAIS – a Portuguese organisation using football to tackle homelessness. Bebé reportedly scored an impressive 40 goals in just six games

Bebé was living in Lisbon shelter Casa Do Gaiato when he played at the tournament but was not selected for the Homeless World Cup. Not that it held him back, of course, he signed for Portuguese side Estrela de Amadora before eventually ending up at Manchester United.

How can I watch The Beautiful Game?

The Beautiful Game is released in selected cinemas worldwide from Friday (22 March) and is available to watch on Netflix from Friday 29 March – just in time for the long Easter weekend.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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