The Edinburgh – Glasgow co-op on Homeless World Cup

Photo Above: Book Signing at Event © Philip Wegmann

By Ian McNally and Philip Wegmann

An Edinburgh church was transformed into a football sanctuary yesterday, as it played host to the launch of a new book about the Homeless World Cup.

“Home Game” by Mel Young and Peter Barr was unveiled in Augustine United Church on George IV Bridge and featured a Q&A with the authors followed by a book sale and signing session.

Young, an Edinburgh native and co-founder of the competition, described the book as a collection of anecdotes from a tournament which kicked off in 2003 in Austria, and has since expanded to venues including Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Young said that his main motivation as a “social entrepreneur” was to blow the whistle on people living on the streets:

“There shouldn’t be homelessness. The object is to end it. Full stop,” Young said.

Photo Above: Home Game © Philip Wegmann

He described his desire to use football as “a tool to get them off the street and destroy the stereotypical view of homeless people.”

He added that the “poorest of the poor” were encouraged to take part and said that his love of the game inspired the idea:

“The power of people and the power of sport come together to speak the common language of football.”

The idea originated in Cape Town in 2001, when Young and his co-founder Harald Schmied got together and had a chat in a bar. However, for Young it was not the night out drinking which was most important:

“The most important meeting was the morning after. Will we leave it in the bar, or will we do it? And then we did it.”

Sixteen years later, Young has more than just 90-minutes of memories to call upon. Reflecting on his favourite anecdotes from the book, Young first recalled the predictable problem of staging the tournament in Edinburgh:

“It rained and rained. Then the event started and the sun came out.”

He talked also of drinking tea with the keepy-uppy-loving Desmond Tutu, who made a surprise cameo in South Africa.

He finally summoned memories of a historically tricky clash between Russia and Afghanistan, in which the latter triumphed:

“You can’t make things up like that.

“The manager of Afghanistan later declared to me that the victory was the first time in 20 years that a light has gone on in our darkness.”

Young concluded his contribution by declaring that the book was “dedicated to the players.”

(Interview with Mel Young )

And, as with every good game of football, this is indeed a tale of two halves, the other being those who have participated and benefited from the tournament.

David Duke was one of these players. He has since gone on to found Street Soccer Scotland, for which he acts as CEO. He said that taking part in the tournament in 2004 was a “turning point” in his life:

“I was homeless in Glasgow, drifting around hostels, for three years. I never had a purpose. And then I came across this poster, looking for players to join the Scottish Team for the Homeless World Cup.”

He discussed the pride he took in representing his country and how it shaped his life:

“I was re-energised after the tournament. I had a new belief in myself, new structure and purpose. It was a life-changing experience.”

Duke became homeless because of an incident in his family:

“After my father passed away in 2000, I was traumatised and stressed. That changed my behaviour, so I started drinking, lost my job and ended up homeless as a result.”

(Interview with David Duke)

The 37-year old sees the tournament as a chance for the homeless people:

“It gives people what they don’t have: relationships around them, support, confidence. So this is how football works.”

Young said that the World Cup is financed by donations, sponsors and fundraising. The host-country of each tournament pays for accommodation, food and costs; the team of each nation covers travel.

Referring to a question from the audience, Young said that they had to be careful choosing sponsors for the World Cup. He said that gambling companies will not considered because of “ethical reasons” and the fact that the players have themselves had to tackle addiction.

This year, the tournament was held in Oslo. It will be staged again next year and thousands of players will, according to Young, have “their” tournament once again.

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