Vincent Kompany tackles homelessness: 'I don't think any of us should accept it'
Four years ago Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany kickstarted Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s bid to end rough sleeping. Now he’s back to finish the job and he’s invited The Big Issue along for the ride
Andy Burnham and Vincent Kompany. Image: Sharon Dobson / Burnley FC
Vincent Kompany is playing table football against Andy Burnham. Elite footballers are competitive animals and so are politicians. They are both getting into it. While Kompany insists to The Big Issue that he won, there is certainly a chance the real winners are everyone else around him.
The pair are at homelessness charity Supporting People in Need (Spin) in Ardwick just outside Manchester city centre. There is Man City memorabilia all over the walls – Ardwick is City turf – but Kompany’s glittering 11-year spell at the Etihad is not the only reason he’s a legend here.
Spin looks after 20 people experiencing homelessness, many of whom are in that situation because their immigration status means they cannot work and have no recourse to public funds. Their single-room accommodation – and the table football Kompany and Burnham are putting to good use – is partly funded by the A Bed Every Night scheme, the Mayor’s bid to end rough sleeping across Greater Manchester.
Around 572 people are supported every night through the scheme across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs, and Kompany’s partly to thank. He set up Tackle4Mcr four years ago to raise around £1 million, generously donating the proceeds of his Man City testimonial to the cause.
Now he’s back to finish the job, he tells The Big Issue.
“I’m looking forward to see where I can do more,” he says. “I have lived for a long time in Manchester now and I’d like to think that every Manc, rich or poor, will not accept that there is someone who has to sleep outside on the street. I don’t feel we can accept this.
“Life is tough but I don’t think any of us should accept it and I think we’re big and strong enough to do something about it.”
Doing something about it started at Spin four years ago.
Kompany was City skipper and deep in a Premier League title showdown the last time he visited the charity and initially met Burnham.
He’d just scored a vital winning goal against Leicester – a rare rocket driven home from distance that has been immortalised in artwork on the wall of Spin’s base. Later that day he was due to head down to Brighton where City would pip Liverpool to the league. Burnham didn’t think Kompany would show. The fact he did “tells you everything you need to know about Vincent Kompany”, Burnham tells The Big Issue.
But the visit was also a pivotal point in Kompany’s own life.
“The last time I came to Spin was the last time I was a football player,” says Kompany. “After that I went into coaching so all of my attention, all of my energy went to just giving myself a chance of being good at that. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t supported charities in general but that would have been financially in kind rather than really having any time to spend there, but that’s always been something that I knew I was going to get drawn back into.
“To see the state of play today after we left it four years ago and see how it’s progressed and the impact A Bed Every Night’s had on lives in general proves that if you associate yourself with the right people then the money you spend, the time that you spend will be put to good use.”
Kompany says his upbringing was one of the driving factors behind him choosing homelessness as a cause he wanted to pursue in 2019. Born to a Belgian mother and a Congolese father, he has previously spoken about his family’s struggles with racism and discrimination in Brussels, but it was the poverty that surrounded them that sticks with him.
“Taking the bus in the morning and going through the main stations where I grew up, it was a sight that was familiar to me when I was younger,” he says. “And then as well in those days it was more about not ever slipping into that.
“I’ve been privileged enough to be successful but that’s never left me.”
Family values have kept his feet on the ground and it’s something he’s passed on to his own children, while he credits Mancunian wife Carla for motivating him to tackle homelessness.
It’s clearly something he has given a lot of thought to. Kompany’s thoughtful and articulate on the subject. He’s adamant he doesn’t have the answers to solve the problem and he’s also wary of the footballer’s place in society in the post-Marcus Rashford vs the government world.
But his commitment – much like on the pitch or in the dugout – cannot be faulted.
“In the end I think we’re in a position where we can all contribute,” he says. “It’s always uncomfortable for me because we’re in a world where I don’t think you can expect private individuals to take over the burden of what really is a government issue.
“Whatever policies are needed, whatever needs to be done to deal with the problem, long-term for me is more important. But in the end, we have a role to play and playing that role is something that I think is important, but it’s not easy.”
Rashford and Kompany may have been on different sides of Manchester’s footballing divide, but their willingness to grapple with social issues in the city leaves them, well, united.
Kompany reminds The Big Issue – in a decidedly Manc twang – that the city is catching up to Brussels in terms of where he has spent the longest part of his life. It’s a place he has taken to heart alongside the working-class values that have characterised the city’s past. That’s why he wants to play a role in its future.
“You can literally walk down Deansgate and ask anyone for anything and they do the best they can to help you so I’m really proud of the development that’s been going on in Manchester since I came here 15 years ago,” he says.
“I’m extremely pleased that something we started so long ago in support of A Bed Every Night has actually now had a lasting impact. But it’s always got to be better. I’m sure there are other people who are better placed than me to actually discuss the solutions. Where I want to position myself is just trying to support where I can. On the one side I love where Manchester is going but on the other side it’s only worth doing if everybody can get on board.”
Outside of Manchester, things are going pretty well for Kompany right now. His Burnley team swept aside all comers in the notoriously tough Championship, he was named manager of the year and has just signed a new five-year deal with the Clarets.
Next season the Manchester City legend will be mixing it with former boss Pep Guardiola in the Premier League – although he denies it’s a meeting he’ll be looking out for when next season’s fixtures are released.
He’s “happy but never satisfied” with progress at Burnley, he says.
But the chance of success isn’t the only factor that pushed Kompany into the dugout after an injury-hit end to his career. “I think it’s almost been like something I needed in my life,” he says. “When I was a player, I had a lot of limitations to my career because of the amount of injuries I had.
“I had some physical things that you can’t overcome at times. I’ve always looked forward to stepping into a career, which is now the case with management, where none of these things could stop my progression.”
A new contract has ended speculation in the press that Kompany could land a job at Chelsea but whatever the future holds in football, it won’t be a career solely measured in trophies and titles.
“I’m really looking forward to see how far I can go personally,” he says. “Like I said, it’s always more fun when you can get over the line with more people than yourself, with how many people I can take on a journey with me.”