How the Homeless World Cup changed David Duke’s life

The Street Soccer Scotland founder wants his side to show their pride at the Homeless World Cup – one year after hosting the tournament in Glasgow.

For David Duke, football really is the beautiful game.

Not many people are as aware just how much the world’s most popular sport can change lives as the Glasgow native.

And as the 2017 Homeless World Cup kicks off in Oslo this week, the Scot admits that he is most excited to see the players make friends from around the world as well as replicating his own transformative journey.

David Duke founded Street Soccer Scotland in 2009

David was homeless in 2003 but just six years later he had started Street Soccer Scotland and was rubbing shoulders with footballing luminaries like Sir Alex Ferguson, who is an ambassador for the organisation.

The 37-year-old took his first steps on the road to recovery from the alcohol problem that he had developed following the death of his father when he was 21 by taking part in the Homeless World Cup trials for the 2004 tournament in Gothenburg.

While the booze took everything away from David, his showing at the Homeless World Cup would set him on a path that few could dream of.

After being part of the team that finished fourth in Sweden, he made the switch to the dugout to manage the team in Copenhagen three years later after cutting his teeth in coaching with Falkirk FC’s youth team.

This time, with his charges ranked 33rd in the world, David led his team to glory with a 9-3 victory over Poland in the final.

Now, he insists that class of 2017, led by manager and former Rangers player Ally Dawson, can live up to the billing of the Scotland sides that won the tournament in 2007 and 2011.

It is really difficult to describe what it is like to play in the Homeless World Cup, you really have to experience it yourself

But the lure of silverware is not the only reason why more than 500 players from 74 nations descend on a host city for the annual feast of football.

The chance to engage with education and support is a big factor but, as David points out, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make global friendships is also a huge draw.

David, who used to work for The Big Issue Foundation, the magazine’s charitable arm, said: “Each and every player will want to do well and represent their country and make friends from all over the world.

“That is one of the special things about the Homeless World Cup. Being a player and a manager, I have made lots of friends that way and with social media nowadays it is possible to maintain friendships like that and that is a brilliant opportunity for the players.

“The coaches and the manager Ally are really happy with the players that they have to work with. By the time the World Cup ends, the players will be truly touched by an amazing experience.

“It is really difficult to describe what it is like to play in the Homeless World Cup, you really have to experience it yourself.”

One year ago, it was Glasgow’s turn to put on a show for the world as they hosted the tournament, raising £10m for homeless causes across the globe and attracting 80,000 fans north of the border.

In Scotland, we are fortunate that people are aware of what we do, especially as we have won the tournament before, but the crowds really embraced the chance to watch the matches live

And the Homeless World Cup was such a hit that it went a long way to transforming the perception of people living on the streets to wider society.

Now the Street Soccer Scotland founder is hoping that the same trick will be repeated abroad this year.

David said: “It’s a funny one because a year after hosting the tournament, it is almost like being jet-lagged after all the hard work and energy that went into the one the year before.

“Glasgow hosting the tournament last year was really good and it was a particularly good thing for the players who got to represent their country on home soil. The tournament showed homelessness in a different light. It de-stigmatised the issue because there were 80,000 people coming to watch football in the city of Glasgow to see players who just so happened to be homeless.

“The good thing about hosting the tournament in Glasgow was that it was a great opportunity for our volunteers and partner organisations to see what Street Soccer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup are all about.

“In Scotland, we are fortunate that people are aware of what we do, especially as we have won the tournament before, but the crowds really embraced the chance to watch the matches live.

“It is a real positive thing now that we can take it to other countries that might not quite be as clued up on what we do and the issues with tackling homelessness, so, in some ways, it was much easier for us to host the tournament in Scotland.”