Football is more than just a game as Homeless World Cup proves

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Pic: Romain Kedochim/Homeless World Cup

The Homeless World Cup is being held in Glasgow’s George Square this week. Paul Cardwell went along to meet some of the players and volunteers to find out the difference the tournament is making on and off the pitch

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12th July 2016 by Paul Cardwell 0 Comments

According to the famous quote of legendary Scottish football boss Bill Shankly, who managed Liverpool in the 1960s and 70s, football is even greater than life and death itself.

In reality, that may be stretching it a little, but as this week's Homeless World Cup in Glasgow shows, its influence for good particularly in promoting life skills beyond the pitch is quite obvious when you scrape back the surface.

Football is more than just a game as Homeless World Cup provesPaige Riggans

It feels like I’m at the top of a mountain just now, and I don’t want to look down as I’m doing really well

Football exposes kids to kicking a ball around with friends for the first time to working as a team – and the tangled web of social skills needed to go with it – long before ever having to work in an office.

It instils the value of the feeling of belonging to something and having an identity outside of your family, which teaches love, respect and promotes looking out for others.

The beautiful game, as it is often called, also teaches lessons of having to work hard to improve yourself individually and that sometimes things won’t go your way but you should never give up if you want to achieve in life.

That spirit of the game epitomises the Homeless World Cup.

Over 500 male and female players are gathered in the city playing 14 minute long four-a-side games, each with their own story of homelessness and each with their own hopes.

For everyone playing in Glasgow, regardless of which of the 52 competing countries they come from, their participation is part of their journey out of homelessness and or addiction.

Paige Riggans, of Scotland women's team, says football has helped her in her journey to get clean from the drugs and alcohol that she turned to after getting into debt, and suffering from anxiety and depression.

Pic: Jshpix.co/Homeless World Cup

Pic: Jshpix.co/Homeless World Cup

“Someone said to me that my journey was like climbing a mountain and this is the top of the mountain. It does feel like I’m at the top of a mountain just now, and I don’t want to look down as I’m doing really well,” she said.

“I got clean  off drugs and alcohol 16 months ago and a friend told me about Street Soccer Scotland (the social enterprise which selects Scotland’s teams) and the drop in sessions they do.

“At that time I had a lot of time on my hands with rehab and focussing on my recovery not using drugs so I thought it would be a good thing to fill my time and mind with.

“I was challenged a lot, my temper was challenged, my way of being was challenged because I was working with people in a really close environment and that wasn’t something I wasn’t used to doing clean.

“I now volunteer and I’m doing an SVQ 3 in community development.”

Pic: Alexander Walker/Homeless World Cup

Pic: Alexander Walker/Homeless World Cup

For others playing in the Homeless World Cup brings the prospect of a new career.

Team USA goalkeeper Robert Smith, 24, hopes his career in football, or soccer as he prefers to call it, takes off after the tournament.

He became homeless after choosing to leave his family home and then not being welcomed back.

He found himself couch surfing with friends before being put in touch with the Outside In homeless youth programme in Portland, Oregon.

It gave him a place to stay in its housing programme, helped him improve his education and get a job. Importantly he also became involved in the programme’s football team, the Portland Raptors.

“About a couple of years ago I started playing soccer with them and I became more and more interested in the game and kept showing up, then started playing tournaments,” he said.

“I got really good and they wanted me to be goalie all the time and I got better every game and I was selected for the Homeless World Cup team.

Pic: Alexander Walker/Homeless World Cup

Pic: Alexander Walker/Homeless World Cup

“I love the atmosphere in Scotland, the team cohesion and all the cheering – it’s great. I’d never flown internationally, I’d never been out of the country so this is a great experience for me.

“I would love participating in the tournament to achieve a clear path for me into soccer and do something with a semi-pro team.”

It’s not just those who are talented with a ball at their feet who are benefiting from the tournament though.

Through a partnership with Glasgow Life and Big Lottery, 150 volunteers have been recruited for a variety of roles and are being offered a place in a legacy project which will give them the opportunity to gain new skills and confidence through a post games programme of sports coaching and creative writing.

Barry Cassidy, 38, is a proud east end of Glasgow man who has been volunteering at the tournament as a ball boy and is also helping out with stewarding.

He has faced difficulties throughout his life including being made homeless through addiction, has spent time in prison, and struggled to cope with his parents’ divorce and his brother and father both passing away.

Football is more than just a game as Homeless World Cup provesBarry Cassidy

I’ve had a lot of bereavement and turmoil in my life. I’ve had a hard time of it but things are better now

For him the Homeless World Cup offers a chance that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

“I’ve had a lot of bereavement and turmoil in my life. I’ve had a hard time of it but things are better now,” he said.

“I’m actually in a rehab just now in the St Mungo Foundation. I’ve been in there over six months, it’s opened a few doors for me and things like this are ideal.

“I like the idea of the legacy as there are a few classes opening up that are university tutored.

“I’ve only got a standard grade education. If it wasn’t for the Homeless World Cup it would be really hard for me to access that sort of thing, nigh impossible.

“Hopefully I can get a half decent job, rather than just working for the sake of a wage.”

The tournament finishes this Saturday, July 16, and while we may never really know if competing in it has saved the life of any of the participants it does look like the life chances of Paige, Robert and Barry along with the hundreds of other participants will be improved.