‘Football Changed My Life’ – Inside The 2019 Homeless World Cup
The recent start of another packed-out Premier League season, following the closing of yet another milestone transfer window with the gigantic salaries and player asking prices that have become the norm, it is easy to forget that this is the reality of only the worlds footballing elite. So whilst the footballing powerhouses of Europe were spending billions this summer and we, the fans, were discussing which teenager our club was going to make a millionaire before said player was even legally allowed to vote – there was a far more humble footballing event taking place.
The Homeless World Cup 2019 saw 500 players from over 50 nations descend on Cardiff’s iconic Bute Park for a weeklong extravaganza of mini-football amongst an alcohol and drug free carnival atmosphere.
“The extent that football has helped my life is massive,” I am told by England player Myles Philp who is at the tournament with a team from London’s Centre Point Charity. “I used to kick ball on the block every weekend, but it was never in mind I could take it seriously.” However, with the three mini stadia, live commentary and gigantic pitch-side screens throughout the park, it is hard to imagine any player arriving at the tournament without the impression they are very much there to take football seriously.
With the tournament park resembling a micro version of a European Championship or World Cup and teams milling about in their very plush pre-match squad tracksuits it’s easy to overlook that there is an upsetting reality behind why every player is here. To be eligible to play at the Homeless World Cup, you have to have been homeless within the last two years – meaning almost every one of these inspirational athletes will have come from backgrounds of substance abuse or violence.
“Never give up on hope and always have faith in people,” Makumbi Abudallah of Team Wales tells me. Originally from Uganda, by way of South Korea and Russia, Mak as he’s affectionately known amongst his team mates, explains “I am currently seeking asylum in the UK, I am not allowed to work so I just play football most of the time.” And it shows in his goal scoring performance against a very strong France team. Mak appears to have very much fallen in love with his adopted nation, with his hand placed pride fully over the Welsh crest on his shirt for one of our portraits he reminisces about his favourite moment of the tournament. “The goal I scored against Indonesia as a substitute and the Welsh people sung my name!” That love is clearly reciprocated.
“Never give up on hope and always have faith in people”
The fans, many of which wait in their droves for entry to the park every morning, are a massive part of the footballing experience at the Homeless World Cup. “It’s just so incredible to see people like myself, albeit it much younger, playing football for the country I grew up” explains Patrick, an Irishman who lived on the streets of Cardiff for many years and, although, he is still not in a ‘perfect’ place he excitedly booms “When I heard the Irish lads were here, I had to grab my flag and come and support them!”
And one of those lads, Jordan Scally tells me of the importance of the world’s game to his life during our portrait session: “Football has changed my life big time, because if it wasn’t for football and my family I don’t know what I would be doing right now.” The Irishman, from a little town in the centre of the country, explains of his experience of the Homeless World Cup that “Getting to meet new people, travelling and all that has just made it perfect for me as well as the players I met to on the team – I couldn’t of asked for better team mates!”
This sense of togetherness is born out of the individuals overcoming of diversity within their personal lives and acts as the glue that binds these team mates closer together. The isolation and ostracism, so much a part a homeless existence, through involvement with the Homeless World Cup is perhaps ironically replaced with a camaraderie that knows nothing of borders or national identity. This is no clearer than whilst waiting for my next sitter, I watch a Welsh valley girl break bread with one of the coaches of the Cambodia team and I am reminded that at this tournament we only speak one language – football.
The final day of the tournament saw Mexico win both the Men’s and Women’s Homeless World Cup 2019 against South American opponents in Chile and Peru respectively. The Mexicans, extremely well supported, were hotly tipped to retain their titles but back in conversation with Myles Philp of Team England, I am reminded that to simply participate is a win. “My Coach, Craig, gave me some important advice very early on in this whole journey, ‘You are the product of your past, it’s made you who you are. The most important thing though now, is to prove it wasn’t all for nothing.” And by just entering the tournament gates, 500 players from over 50 nations have done exactly that.
To find out how to get involved and support the annual tournament, then head to the Homeless World Cup website.
Be sure stay up to date with all the latest sports, portrait and lifestyle photography of Joshua T Gibbons on Instagram, @JoshuaTGibbons.
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