Sabrina Cohen-Hatton at the Homeless World Cup: “We need more Michael Sheens”

The Big Issue ambassador represented us at the tournament in the city where she homeless as a teenager

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has revealed the Homeless World Cup’s ability to give homeless people an identity is something she would have found crucial in her own time on the streets.

The Big Issue ambassador and cover star was rough sleeping and sold the magazine at the age of 15 in Cardiff – less than a mile from where the tournament is being held at Bute Park in the Welsh capital.

But after a remarkable transformation she became one of the UK’s most senior female firefighters – in charge of the response to both the Westminster and Finsbury Park terrorist attacks in 2017 – as well as a top academic and a published author.

Today Sabrina was sharing that incredible story on the airwaves, recording live on-site at the Homeless World Cup on BBC Radio Five Live with Nihal Arthanayake.

Sabrina has singled Michael Sheen for praise after hearing his own story on air. The actor and activist has not only played a pivotal role in bringing the Homeless World Cup to Cardiff but has also acted as compere, hype man, co-commentator and plenty of other roles at the tournament so far.

In fact, Sheen admitted on-air that he had put “everything on the line” to fund the tournament after it fell short in the weeks before the event. Street Football Wales founder Keri Harris told The Big Issue just days ago that he hoped his organisation could find sustainable funding as part of the Homeless World Cup’s legacy in Wales.

“Michael Sheen, oh my goodness, we’ve just interviewed him on Radio 5 Live and he has told us that he has put his own money into this,” said Sabrina. “So it’s not been a flash in the pan, he’s put his heart and soul and own personal resources into it. I admired the guy before but now he has taken it to a whole new level and we need more Michael Sheens in the world.

“Cardiff has been awe-inspiring, it’s just bloody brilliant. I feel really proud that Cardiff has been chosen as the place to host the Homeless World Cup in 2019.

“Come down and see what’s happening because I think it’s impossible to leave here without a feeling of empathy and compassion and a deeper sense of understanding of the circumstances we sometimes find ourselves in.”

Following her radio duties, she took time out to tell The Big Issue how the Homeless World Cup has made a huge impression on her after spending a couple of days at the event.

“What I love is that everybody has come together and had an opportunity to do something together to experience something positive,” she said. “I know from my own experiences of being on the streets – when you’re there you feel like you’re not valued, people walk past you like a ghost, like you’re not even there. And to do something positive in the strip of your home nation and to have that as part of your own identity is so positive. I’ve spoken to quite a few players and consistently they have described to me how getting involved with street football has changed their lives for the better. It gives people that support network.”

While at the Homeless World Cup, Sabrina also took the chance to meet Big Issue vendor Mark Richards, who has spent hours hardily selling the magazine in the rainy conditions on Tuesday.

She was named a Big Issue ambassador earlier this year after featuring on the cover of the magazine in April and she admitted that the chance to spread The Big Issue’s message of “a hand up, not a hand out” was one she relished.

“It’s amazing to represent The Big Issue at the Homeless World Cup,” said Sabrina.

“It’s that point when you think, “Oh my god, everything has come full circle” and it is so incredibly humbling and it feels really good. The opportunity to change people’s perceptions of homelessness is huge, it’s just so important to think about what it means that people do not have a place to call their home.

“We are all just two or three difficult life events away from it. My message is think about it, because the common denominator here is that we are all human.”