A match in Zócalo Square, Mexico City, 2012. Image: Anita Miles
The long-awaited return of the Homeless World Cup means players from the home nations will be jetting off to the tournament in the United States. That’s not quite as easy as it once was before the pandemic, with a cost of living crisis and rising air fares making it a challenge to get every player on the pitch.
Last time the Homeless World Cup was held in 2019, the Welsh team didn’t have far to travel to head to Bute Park in Cardiff. This time around it’s a journey of more than 5,000 miles to reach Sacramento in the US.
Street Football Wales (SFW) set a £35,000 fundraising goal to get the country’s men’s and women’s teams to the tournament backed with a donation bucket collection at the recent Wales vs Armenia match. An auction packed with memorabilia from long-time supporter Michael Sheen also helped – a signed Wales jersey signed by the actor raised more than £1,000.
“Without that support, we would not be where we are now, put it that way,” says SFW operations manager Scott Jeynes. “In terms of fundraising, he’s been vital in raising the profile and the awareness of street football.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge in terms of visas and estas getting Team Wales there. Some of our players have required an interview in London and there’s been a massive backlog since Covid so preparations have not been the smoothest, but we’ve tried to make that transition as best we can.”
The pandemic may have robbed SFW of some elements of its legacy from the Cardiff event, but the operation has expanded to cover the whole of Wales, with 598 registered players.
The excitement is still palpable for team veterans and the new players who will experience the HWC for the first time.
“We’ve watched loads of footage back from Cardiff to get a buzz for it and get a feel for it and the men’s and women’s teams are both super excited to represent Wales. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” adds Jeynes.
“I think the highlight for me will be both teams in their opening game singing the Welsh national anthem. We have a group of players who have gone through adversity, have had very different life experiences but, when they are at the tournament, nothing matters other than the football and they’re playing with a smile on their face.
“We were lucky enough to be at the Wales vs Armenia game and go on the pitch at half-time, that was a life-changing experience as well. Our men’s and women’s team all stood up for the anthem at the beginning and one of them turned around and said, ‘That’ll be us soon’.”
David Duke is the founder of Street Soccer Scotland and Street Soccer London, which are running both the Scotland and England teams heading to California. He told The Big Issue that sponsors had helped get the men’s Scotland team across to the tournament alongside a fundraising push at the Scotland vs Georgia match at Hampden Park last month.
“It’s a great experience for the players who get selected. It’s a chance for the players to change their life,” says Duke. “It’s also a chance for some of the organisations across the world to come together, share ideas and just be together. It’s very much a family and obviously we’ve not seen each other for a while so it’s good for that to come back.”
The tournament is heading to the heart of homelessness in the US. California is the state with the highest number of people experiencing homelessness across America, with 171,521 people counted as homeless in the most recent point-in-time single-night count. Overall, 30% of America’s homeless population is in California.
Meanwhile, Sacramento County has around 9,300 people experiencing homelessness with more than 70% of that total being unsheltered or sleeping rough as it would be called in the UK.
“It’s really important for the Homeless World Cup’s message to be in America. They’ve got some of the poorest rights when it comes to housing, health and homelessness,” says Duke.
“Hopefully with the Homeless World Cup being there it can have an impact far wider than the actual players playing, in terms of removing stigma and people understanding there can be solutions to homelessness.
“The Homeless World Cup provides a solution. All the projects going there, whether they be in Brazil, Mexico or Scotland, we’re all using football as a way to reconnect people to services and support and be part of the community.”
This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine out this week. Support your local vendor by buying today! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.