Ever since I joined The Big Issue two years ago, I’ve done scores of interviews with players, coaches and organisers about the Homeless World Cup.
In virtually every one, I have heard how it is a “life-changing experience”, “almost indescribable” and “you have to experience it for yourself”.
Today, with the 2019 tournament in full flow in Cardiff, I finally got to experience it first-hand.
One of the people who told me just how powerful the impact of the Homeless World Cup can be is Wayne Ellaway. Merely seconds after arriving at Bute Park, I bumped into the Wales coach striding confidently between the pitches, looking like he was in his element. Just six years ago he was battling addiction in the very place where an international football tournament is now being held. It’s a remarkable transformation.
You won’t find Fifa throwing a football extravaganza with Big Issue vendors on the door either.
In Bute Park you can meet vendor Ahmed Hashi, on a brief break from his pitch at Waterstones across the city. Or you can meet Mark Richards, who sells the magazine at Cardiff’s Queen Street Station and also works in The Big Issue’s Cardiff office sending out subscriptions. In fact, Michael Sheen, the actor and activist who spearheaded Cardiff’s bid for the tournament, did just that. He signed a copy of The Big Issue for Mark, leaving him with a beaming smile and vowing to “make sure he doesn’t sell that copy!”