By Liam Finn
The Homeless World Cup will kick off tomorrow in Poznań, Poland.
The seven-day annual tournament – first held in 2003 – will see 48 countries competing, including teams from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Sixteen countries will field women’s teams.
Founders Mel Young and Harald Schmied established the Homeless World Cup in 2001 as an organisation to “change the lives of homeless people through football”. It has 70 partners around the world working with people suffering from homelessness and exclusion.
UK housing and homelessness charity Shelter reports that more than 81,000 households in England were classed as homeless in the past year – an increase of 5%. It lists the causes of homelessness as poverty, unemployment, the housing market, or individual or family factors, including family breakdown, mental health issues, or alcohol and drug misuse.
The tournament, billed by the Homeless World Cup organisation as a “street football event with unique rules”, will have 15-minute matches played by four-a-side teams. Rolling substitutions allow up to eight players to appear for each team in a single match. If the match is a draw at the end of normal time, a sudden death shoot-out is held.
Players must be at least 16-years-old and be appearing in the tournament for the first time. They must have been homeless in the past year or have been in drug or alcohol rehabilitation following homelessness in the past two years.
The organisation’s research claims that over 70% of players experience a significant life change, such as recovering from addiction, or securing employment or training.
Scotland is looking to win the World Cup for the third time, having beaten Poland 9-3 in the 2007 final and Mexico 4-3 in 2011. Speaking before last year’s tournament, Scotland captain, Mark Stack, said: “It’s not only about the football; it’s about the experience.
“All the other teams, obviously, they’ve been in the same kind of predicament as yourself – homeless, drugs, drink – all that kind of stuff. So you can identify with people, people that have struggled like yourself.
“My life’s not been easy. Nobody’s life is easy, but I was on heroin for 18 years. Mostly my life was in and out of prison and I just knew something had to give, I had to try something else apart from the same things I was doing.
“I heard about Street Soccer. I went there a couple of days a week… and I found out about the Homeless World Cup through that.
“I could never, ever have believed that I would have been in this position because I could never see an end to my life – I just wanted to die… You just don’t feel as if you’ve any self-worth.
“But now I’m nearly three years clean and I’m in Mexico City playing football.”
The draw for the tournament will take place tonight at 17:00 BST.