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Social Justice

Street Soccer Nations Cup: The football tournament that changes lives

The Nations Cup takes place in Dundee this week. For the players, it’s so much more than a game of football. We spoke to two coaches who represented their country and turned their lives around

Heaven and earth have been moved to make the men’s World Cup in Qatar a reality in a couple of months, and it’s already had great human cost. The country’s human rights record has been under the microscope for many reasons, including its treatment of migrant workers, yet the tournament has defied the Covid pandemic and disruption to the club football season to go ahead.

Not every football competition has been afforded the same opportunity. It’s now three years since the
Homeless World Cup was last held. 

The (usually) annual tournament is a showcase for the unifying power of the sport to tackle social exclusion. It was last held triumphantly in Cardiff back in 2019, thanks in no small part to the personal intervention of Michael Sheen, who poured his own fortune into the competition’s coffers to make it happen.

Since then, a trip to Tampere in Finland fell victim to Covid and the pandemic has also delayed the next tournament in New York by a year. The response is the Street Soccer Nations Cup taking place in Dundee this weekend (September 9 to 11), when 16 teams from eight nations will take to the pitch for knockout football.

It’s about time, Sarah Rhind and Colleen McCudden tell the Big Issue. The Street Soccer Scotland (SSS) coaches have both had a taste of the Homeless World Cup – Rhind played for Scotland in Amsterdam back in 2015, McCudden in Oslo two years later – and they know just how life-changing the event can be. Both women have battled addiction and the tournament became a platform to turn their lives around. 

Sarah Rhind
Sarah Rhind. Image: Street Soccer Scotland

“It was incredible. It was such a huge, huge opportunity,” says Rhind, 38, who has been part of the SSS setup for seven years. “Putting on a Scotland shirt to represent your country was phenomenal. But to have come on the journey that I have and to meet people with a similar background to me from all over the world was just such a humbling experience. It was inspiring and very eye-opening as well. It gave you a humility about life and a new outlook.” 

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It’s a platform that Covid has cruelly taken away. Last year the Homeless World Cup held the Four Nations Challenge Cup in Edinburgh with teams from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as a stopgap. This year the door has been opened to more nations for Street Soccer Scotland’s tournament. 

“It’s so important to have these events. It’s almost a reward. It’s nice to be able to give that opportunity to the players you’re working closely with day in, day out,” says Rhind. “You see how hard they’re working on their journeys, and you know from your own experience how hard that is and the effort they’re putting in to turn their lives around. It’s such an incredible platform for them, and from there players go on to do incredible stuff. It’s almost an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to own who you are, where you’ve come from and to be proud of that.” 

The players who will be representing their country at the Nations Cup learned last week that they have made their respective teams. 

Colleen McCudden
Colleen McCudden (centre) Photo: Street Soccer Scotland

The “excitement and nerves” brought back memories for McCudden, 30. “When you’ve been a player before, you can remember how you felt on that day,” she says. “You’re able to see them smiling and it’s genuine. The togetherness they get from being part of a team is second to none. You couldn’t buy that kind of joy.” 

McCudden joined Street Soccer Scotland in 2017 after being “tricked” by one of her support workers who told her they were going for a coffee. Now, coaching at the Street Soccer Nations Cup and passing on her lived experience puts into perspective how far she has come.  

“There’s a good chance I possibly may not have been here today to speak [without Street Soccer Scotland],” says McCudden. “Before I joined I had no hope, no motivation. I was like: ‘I don’t even want to be here.’ But five years down the line and being able to say I’m not involved in active addiction, I’ve made lots of friends and had the opportunities that have come along has been massive for me.” 

The Street Soccer Nations Cup will not get the attention of Fifa’s football extravaganza. But it is undoubtedly the more beautiful look for the beautiful game.

Sixteen teams will take to the pitch at Dundee’s Caird Hall, City Square over the three-day tournament. Eight nations will be represented, with a men’s and women’s team playing for each country. Each match will follow the rules used during the Homeless World Cup: four players a side with each match lasting 14 minutes. Here’s a rundown of the nations taking part. 

Scotland 

Scotland flag

The host nation can count Street Soccer Scotland patrons Sir Alex Ferguson and Liverpool star Andy Robertson in their corner. Started by David Duke in 2009, SSS organised the tournament as part of their growing operations which has seen a new Dundee base opened in the last year, as well as new efforts to reach smaller cities and towns across Scotland. 

England 

England flag

Street Soccer London – an extension of Street Soccer Scotland – opened during the pandemic in 2020, launching two London bases in Lambeth and Nine Elms to offer free football sessions as a starting point to create positive pathways for young people and adults. Now the group is operating Team England, taking over from youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.

Wales 

Welsh flag

The hosts of the last Homeless World Cup in 2019 with the backing of actor Michael Sheen, Street Football Wales uses football to tackle social inclusion. Founder Keri Harris was working at Big Issue Cymru in 2003 when he was tasked with getting a Welsh team together for the inaugural Homeless World Cup. Today, SFW operates four leagues with 40 teams across Wales. 

Northern Ireland 

Northern Ireland flag

Started in 2009 when co-founders Justin McMinn and Aidan Byrne turned a kickabout at a homeless hostel in east Belfast into a mainstay of the Homeless World Cup. Street Soccer Northern Ireland helps around 120 people a week, with 10 football sessions across Belfast, Coleraine, Derry and Downpatrick.  

Republic of Ireland 

Republic of Ireland flag

Operated by Homeless Street Leagues (HSL) – the group who used to run Big Issue Ireland – the Irish team is drawn from 10 leagues across the country. Team Ireland can count former president of Ireland Michael D Higgins, film star Colin Farrell and footballer-turned-pundit Kevin Kilbane as patrons. 

Sweden

Sweden flag

Gatans Lang will operate the Swedish team. The group became members of the Swedish Football Association in 2012 and operate football training sessions across five cities using sport to tackle homelessness. 

Afghanistan

Afghanistan flag

Street Soccer Scotland’s programmes have provided support for Afghan refugees who moved to Scotland after the Taliban’s 2021 takeover of the country. Players from across those programmes will now have the chance to represent their native country in their adopted nation. 

Netherlands

A last-minute addition after players from Ivory Coast’s Don’t Forget Me Association were denied visas, the Life Goals Foundation’s programme based in Utrecht, Netherlands, stepped in. Life Goals Foundation help vulnerable people at the edges of society integrate through sport.

Ukraine

Street Soccer Scotland is also running a women’s team to represent Ukraine after refugees from the country recently engaged with its Street45 programme in Glasgow.

See more info on the tournament here


This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach local your 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.

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