Wales players have received official caps marking their appearances for their country in this year’s Homeless World Cup.
Street Football Wales (SFW) founder Keri Harris has been lobbying for years for his players to receive the same recognition as elite stars like Gareth Bale by receiving a cap for turning out for their country.
And, as they prepare to host the Homeless World Cup for the first time in the tournament’s 17-year history, 100 former players received caps at Dragon Park in Newport – Welsh football’s national development centre – yesterday.
Among the Wales team alumni, current coach and Big Issue employee Wayne Ellaway was honoured as well as Dee Sampson, whose remarkable story had such an impact on actor Michael Sheen that it inspired him to lead the bid for Wales to host the 2019 tournament.
Harris said: “Today was all about pride and respect. To watch these players receive official international caps for playing for their country was truly the realisation of a dream. It’s been a long time coming but these special men and women deserve their moment. I was beaming from ear to ear throughout.”
Sheen added: “What a day! Keri has campaigned long and hard to make today happen and when we knew that the Homeless World Cup was coming to Wales in 2019 it was one of my top goals to ensure that everyone who had earned their spot in a Homeless World Cup squad would receive the official recognition that they richly deserve.”
Harris has managed the Wales team since its inception, running four leagues with 40+ teams around Wales for people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion.
And he told The Big Issue that he hopes the Homeless World Cup will have a legacy that will boost participation numbers in the SFW leagues.
“We’re really excited – it’s been 16 years in the making for us,” he said.
“It’s a dream come true for me. It’s fantastic being able to showcase not only the Welsh teams at the tournament but also all the other work we do – it’s a fantastic opportunity for Street Football Wales.”
Great crowd here for @streetsoccerSCO & @slumsoccer players as they receive a special send off on the way to @homelesswrldcup in Cardiff. #Cardiff2019HWC thanks to@BurnessPaullLLP @qmscotland @EDI_Airport @ActiveScotGov pic.twitter.com/WgEwSFQQQW
— Street Soccer Scotland (@streetsoccerSCO) July 25, 2019
Meanwhile, Scotland’s team is Cardiff-bound after Rangers boss Steven Gerrard sent them on their way.
The former England and Liverpool midfielder met the Street Soccer Scotland (SSS) players yesterday as well as the India team, who have been warming up for the World Cup with training and matches in Scotland.
The two countries will meet again in September when Scotland’s women’s team will head to India to volunteer and play a series of games after missing out on a spot at the Homeless World Cup.
Crowds gathered outside Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries this morning to wave off the players as they travel down to Cardiff for the tournament.
Steven Gerrard shows his support to the Scotland and India captains who will travel to the @homelesswrldcup representing @streetsoccerSCO and @slumsoccer 🏴🇮🇳 #Cardiff2019HWC pic.twitter.com/JVDBDd9kbz
— Street Soccer Scotland (@streetsoccerSCO) July 24, 2019
SSS founder David Duke told The Big Issue: “The Homeless World Cup is always a fantastic event that the players cherish. Aside from the football, it’s the memories that it creates, the experience of meeting new players and people, that’s where the magic is.
“And the football side of it, the guys will hopefully do well, but it is about doing well off the pitch. They understand that it’s more than a kickabout.”