Or: “Chippenham is more like Rio than you thought”
Albert Camus was still alive at the time of the 1954 World Cup – the poster is not thought to be a tribute to him…. Much has changed over the years since then. The recent FIFA World Cup (very important to use the ‘FIFA’ handle – their legal department is probably checking round the clock for perceived slights and slurs) in South Africa was widely criticised for the sacrifice of many things to the commercial interests of the FIFA ‘family’. Certainly, whatever the shortcomings of FIFA, failure to make a profit is not one of them. Its commitment to profit and the corporate image was helped by the co-operation of the South African authorities and legal system with regard to dealing with unauthorised commercial activities. The South African hosts were also very helpful in ‘sanitising’ the host cities by moving on the homeless. Well, they do make the place look rather messy, don’t they? And there is precedent, as recently as the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. There is concern that a similar process regarding making the homeless ‘disappear’ may be planned for the London Olympics 2012. Certainly, some have expressed an opinion on the internet that it has already started with the ThamesReach London Reconnection Project, helping homeless people from the former Soviet bloc return to their countries of origin.
Meanwhile, with the teams of various countries struggling to find the funds to be able to attend, another football World Cup was finalising its preparations. And an unlikely link was forming between Rio de Janeiro, Iffley Road – the place where Roger Bannister ran the first 4-minute mile, and the Doorway Project. This World Cup is not moving aside the homeless – it is FOR the homeless.
The Homeless World Cup 2010, as can be seen from the above, is taking place in Rio from the 19th to 26th September. The HWC has been held annually since 2003. Players must be at least 16 years old at the time of the tournament, and have been homeless at some point after the previous year’s World Cup OR make their main living income as a streetpaper vendor OR be asylum seekers (who have neither positive asylum status nor working permit – not more than 2 per team) OR be in drug / alcohol rehabilitation and have been homeless within the last 2 years. They can only play in one World Cup. Teams can be all male, all female, or mixed (there is also a separate female-only Cup this year). Rules are a Street Soccer variant, with 4 per team on the pitch, rolling subs, games of 14 minutes, and a small pitch.
The aim was for 64 nations to be represented, though many have had severe problems with funding. The England team’s appearance was severely in danger until very recently, and was only confirmed within the last couple of weeks, with many fund-raising events including the team manager climbing Snowdon, a high profile charity match in Bradford, and the indefatigible efforts of my friend Jon Regler (of whom more later) and his colleagues, including walking from London to Edinburgh, finally hitting their target on the 15th September. Other teams may, sadly, not even make it there, such as South Africa (probably), due to lack of funds; and Zimbabwe (definitely), due to visa problems.
So, around 500 players, selected from trials of many, many more (in England, 500 played for the 8 places), and already facing enormous challenges in their lives beforehand, will have battled against the odds to play in Rio. What will it mean to them? Here’s the trailer from a film called ‘Kicking It’, made about the 2006 tournament, held in South Africa:
“Training again suddenly gave me an escape from the drinking…..(Football) breaks down barriers. It doesn’t matter how much money you have – on the pitch we’re equal. It makes people trust each other. If you’ve been on the streets, that’s a difficult thing. When you have a team, you learn to trust the people around you. A lot of these guys are isolated, so they learn communication skills too.”
And in an interview on the BBC Dorset website, one of the England players this year, Mark Wheeler, said:
“It gives me great pride and self worth. I have learnt, with support from others, to make the most of opportunities, the importance of being on time and travelling on the train to Manchester [for training] and back every month proves I can be committed”
And England team manager Richard Brown said taking part in the games directly benefits the players:
“What we’ve found with homeless people is that you have to work with their self esteem. If you don’t have self esteem you’re going to struggle with everything.”
As it also says in the article, the organisers claim that “73% of competitors change their lives for the better after the tournament by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, or new homes, and reuniting with their families”.
So, that’s all great stuff, but what’s the connection with Doorway, apart from the fact that Doorway works with the homeless and marginalised?
In 2009, Doorway ran a pilot football project for guests, using outdoor facilities on the edge of Chippenham. The sessions were very popular with those who came, but the numbers dwindled when winter approached, funding for taxis would have to be found, and the lead worker for the project went back to university. It was however intended to try again in 2010.
While the Doorway Manager, Lisa, and Doorway Support Worker Kev, were working on relaunching this, I was exploring the world of Twitter. As it happens, football brought me into Twitter, as I wanted to tweet messages to the Jumbotron at Selhurst Park during a Crystal Palace home game. Yes, it is sad, I know…. My explorations of the Twitter community, searching for people involved with homeless issues, led me to the Homeless World Cup, and thence Jon Regler and the Streets Revolution project. This is a football project for the homeless and marginalised in Oxford, with a weekly drop-in session at the Oxford University Iffley Road Astroturf pitch. This project only started in April, with a handful of players. I visited on 1st June, when 14 players turned up. Now, the sessions are so popular that a second weekly session has been added, with more intense and formalised training for those who want to take their football up a gear. They have some assistance from the Oxford United Football in the Community team. One of the players has started the sequence of FA coaching badges, and so many of them are finding focus, commitment, teamwork, and increased respect for themselves and for others. They have now hosted a tournament of 6 teams (of which their two teams finished first and second), at which Kev and myself helped with the refereeing, and we have from that found a possible link with Newbury Two Saints.
Our crucial jigsaw piece fell into place when the kind and generous people of Ladyfield Evangelical Church, Chippenham, offered the use weekly, for an hour, of their spanking new indoor sports court. This of course avoids the previous weather issues, and is much more accessible for our guests. We had kind donations of kit from Chippenham Town FC and trainers from Devizes Textiles, and have now had confirmation of a significant donation from the Co-operative Membership Community Fund.
We identified our aims, including:
- Provide supervised football activity for people aged 16+ who would not normally have access to sports opportunities
- Offer a positive alternative to congregating on the streets outside normal drop in hours
- Engage with guests of Doorway who are more comfortable expressing themselves through structured physical activity
- Encourage teamwork / social cohesion amongst guests
- Take a guest activity outside the confines of the Salvation Army building
- Provide physical activity and positive social engagement to counteract the boredom of guests’ everyday lives and to improve their general health and sense of wellbeing
- Promote social cohesion and enhanced teamwork between individual guests
- Offer new opportunities for volunteering – individuals who work full time and are therefore unable to volunteer for drop-in sessions
We also identified longer-term aims:
- Offer opportunities for developing relationships with other football projects with similar or related groups
- Aim to initiate a local charity 5 a side football league
- Raise wider recognition locally of issues around homelessness
- Work with the Community Football facilitator to offer access to further sporting opportunities for guests who wish to develop their skills further
So we are now a few sessions in, and though numbers are low at present, enthusiasm and enjoyment are high. We’re seeing fitness and skill levels improve. And we’ve started trying using the futsal ball, boundaries and rules, to improve skill levels further.
Here’s some of the feedback from our guests:
“Enjoy playing football. The people who attend are friendly and I feel comfortable here.”
“Excellent workout, interesting drills and a good opportunity to be involved in learning about football and a good game played with enthusiasm. Looking forward to more next week.”
“Great stuff. Enjoyed it a lot.”
“Very enjoyable session and good chance to be introduced to soccer skills training, volunteers very helpful, and immaculate facility.”
“I really enjoy football, and I really enjoy the company. This is ideal for me as it’s local, and it’s my favourite sport ”
Jon Regler reminds me of how their project also started with small numbers. Little acorns, and all that. We hope that patience, persistence, hard work, and commitment to what we are trying to achieve, will get us to where we want to be. Just like those players in Rio.