Wales’ Wayne Ellaway is coaching at the place “where he fell apart”

The Big Issue sales and operations worker battled drug addiction in Cardiff's Bute Park six years ago. Now he will be coaching Wales' Homeless World Cup squad in the same spot.

It’s fair to say there has been a fair bit of interest in Wayne Ellaway ahead of the Homeless World Cup.

The Wales coach has been a man in demand. “I’ve spoken to ITV, BBC, Radio Wales and a few others, it’s been crazy! I’ll be glad to have my normal life back.”

When Wayne is not having a kickabout or coaching Street Football Wales’s (SFW) 2019 team, he works as a vendor development worker at The Big Issue’s Cardiff office, helping vendors in the Welsh capital.

Even that role seemed a world away just six years ago. He was sofa-surfing and struggling with substance abuse after being released from prison in 2013.

This year’s tournament is being held in Bute Park, where he spent his time while he was homeless.

“Having the chance to coach the team in Cardiff is phenomenal, especially in Bute Park,” he says. “When I was homeless and addicted to drugs, I used to walk along Bute Park with nothing. I was desperate, I was desolate, I was alone, I was isolated. I used to walk around there with desperation, thinking: ‘What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?’ And now six years later I’m coaching the Welsh squad at the Homeless World Cup in the same place where I was falling apart.”

From the beginning I felt like it was more than football, the atmosphere was like a family, I was no longer socially excluded.

Wayne, 44, first learned of SFW while staying in Cardiff hostel Tŷ Gobaith Lifehouse.

He went along to a training session that set him on the path to restoring his self-esteem and confidence when he played at the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam in 2015.

“I was still in recovery at the time and very unwell mentally, physically and emotionally so I went along to a few matchdays and I loved it instantly,” he says.

“From the beginning I felt like it was more than football, the atmosphere was like a family, I was no longer socially excluded. Instead I was, all of a sudden, transported into being socially included. It was phenomenal and it was instant.

“Amsterdam was just the best experience ever – well I say that, it was at the time. But year on year on year it keeps getting better and better and better.”

Wayne has become a mainstay at the tournament – he coached the men’s side in Glasgow the following year before doing the same at Oslo in 2017.

Last year’s tournament allowed Wayne to achieve a dream taken from his childhood atlas, visiting the Americas when he coached the women’s team in Mexico. This year he will be back supporting the men’s team in the Welsh capital.

And Wayne’s introduction to SFW has also led him on the path to The Big Issue. He started volunteering in January last year and even plays for the company team in SFW’s football league.

But all will be on hold for the Homeless World Cup.

“Of course, it’s a football tournament, we have such a good team and I’m on the human side to help my players. I’m trying to prepare them emotionally,” he says.

“At the World Cup it’s like you forget, even the people who are addicted or still homeless, you have that 10 days where you completely forget your past or future life. You’re so in the moment.”