Wayne Ellaway admits that he had “almost given up on life” before the Homeless World Cup triggered a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes.
The Welshman was sofa surfing and suffering with substance abuse after being released from prison in 2013 – but things changed for the better after he learned about Street Football Wales while staying in Cardiff hostel Tŷ Gobaith Lifehouse.
Wayne went along to a training session that proved to be life changing. From there, he went to Amsterdam in 2015 as a player in an experience that he described as “unforgettable” and proved instrumental in restoring his self-esteem and confidence.
Since then, the 43-year-old has taken on a coaching role in subsequent tournaments, including achieving a life-long ambition to see to the Americas when the Homeless World Cup headed to Mexico City last year.
“Homeless World Cup is such an amazing experience,” said Street Football Wales head coach Wayne. “There’s food, music, fun, laughter. There’s representatives from the rest of the world who express themselves on the pitch and off the pitch. The flair on the pitch is phenomenal.”
This year, more than 500 players from 50 countries will head to Cardiff for the week-long tournament on July 27.
The bid to bring the tournament to Wales was helmed by actor Michael Sheen, who is also taking a hands-on role in organising the tournament.
It is a chance for people in Wales to go through the same life-changing process as Wayne, who now works for The Big Issue as a sales and outreach worker.
“If people have experienced homelessness or substance abuse for such a long time, they’ve been excluded from society and have no connections with human beings,” he said. “To come along and be part of something that’s real it makes them human.”
The Homeless World Cup will take place in Cardiff’s Bute Park from July 27–August 3