Street Soccer Nations Cup: Football that changes lives

It is a platform that Covid has cruelly taken away. Last year, the Homeless World Cup held the Four Nations Challenge Cup in Edinburgh with teams from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as a stopgap measure. This year the door has been opened to more nations for the Street Soccer Scotland tournament.

“It is very important to have these events. It’s almost a reward. It’s nice to be able to give that opportunity to the players you work closely with every day,” says Rhind. “You see how hard they are working on their journeys, and you know from your own experience how hard that is and how much effort they are putting into changing their lives. It’s such an amazing platform for them, and players do amazing things from there. It’s almost an opportunity to reinvent yourself and recognize who you are, where you come from and be proud of that.”

The players who will represent their country in the Nations Cup learned last week that they have formed their respective teams.

Colleen McCudden
Colleen McCudden (centre) Photo: Street Soccer Scotland

The “excitement and nerves” brought back memories for the 30-year-old McCudden. “When you’ve been a player before, you can remember how you felt that day,” he says. “You can see them smile and it’s genuine. The bond they get from being part of a team is second to none. You couldn’t buy that kind of joy.”

McCudden joined Street Soccer Scotland in 2017 after being “misled” by one of their support workers who told her they were going out for coffee. Now coaching in the Street Soccer Nations Cup and passing on her lived experience puts into perspective just how far she’s come.

“There’s a good chance he might not have been here today to talk [without Street Soccer Scotland]McCudden says. “Before I joined I had no hope, no motivation. I was like, ‘I don’t even want to be here. But five years later and being able to say that I’m not involved in active addiction, and I’ve made a lot of friends and had the opportunities that came my way, it’s been huge for me.”

The Street Soccer Nations Cup will not draw attention to the footballing extravagance of FIFA. But it is, without a doubt, the most beautiful aspect for the beautiful game.

Sixteen teams will take to the pitch at Dundee’s Caird Hall, City Square during the three-day tournament. Eight nations will be represented, with a men’s and women’s team playing for each country. Each match will follow the rules used during the Homeless World Cup: four players per side and each match will last 14 minutes. Here is a summary of the participating nations.

Scotland

Scotland flag

The host nation can count on Street Soccer Scotland patrons Sir Alex Ferguson and Liverpool star Andy Robertson in their corner. Started by David Duke in 2009, SSS organized the tournament as part of its growing operations, which saw the opening of a new base in Dundee last year, as well as new efforts to reach out to smaller cities and towns across Scotland.

England

England flag

Street Soccer London, an extension of Street Soccer Scotland, opened during the pandemic in 2020, opening two London bases in Lambeth and Nine Elms to offer free soccer sessions as a starting point to create positive pathways for young people and adults. Now the group is operating Team England, taking over from Centrepoint, a charity for young homeless people.

Welsh

welsh flag

Hosts of the last Homeless World Cup in 2019 with the backing of actor Michael Sheen, Street Football Wales uses football to address social inclusion. Founder Keri Harris was working at Big Issue Cymru in 2003 when she was given the task of putting together a Welsh team for the inaugural Homeless World Cup. Today SFW operates four leagues with 40 teams in Wales.

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North Ireland

northern ireland flag

It started in 2009 when co-founders Justin McMinn and Aidan Byrne turned a homeless shelter in East Belfast into a mainstay of the Homeless World Cup. Street Soccer Northern Ireland helps around 120 people a week, with 10 soccer sessions in Belfast, Coleraine, Derry and Downpatrick.

Republic of Ireland

Flag of the Republic of Ireland

Operated by the Homeless Street Leagues (HSL), the group that used to run Big Issue Ireland, the Irish team is drawn from 10 leagues across the country. The Ireland team can count on former President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, movie star Colin Farrell and footballer-turned-expert Kevin Kilbane as sponsors.

Sweden

sweden flag

Gatans Lang will operate the Swedish team. The group became a member of the Swedish Football Association in 2012 and organizes football training sessions in five cities using sport to tackle homelessness.

Afghanistan

afghanistan flag

Street Soccer Scotland programs have provided support to Afghan refugees who moved to Scotland after the Taliban takeover of the country in 2021. Players from all those programs will now have the opportunity to represent their home country in their adopted nation.

Netherlands

A last-minute addition after players from the Ivory Coast Don’t Forget Me Association were denied visas, the Utrecht, Netherlands-based Life Goals Foundation program stepped in. The Life Goals Foundation helps vulnerable people on the margins of society to integrate through sport.

Ukraine

Street Soccer Scotland is also fielding a women’s team to represent Ukraine after refugees from the country recently committed to its Street45 program in Glasgow.

See more information about the tournament here

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you can’t reach your local provider, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or gift a subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase single issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now on the App Store or Google Play.

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