Two teams of men and women who have experienced homelessness in the Province are on their way to Oslo to take part in the Homeless World Cup.
Northern Ireland will be represented at this year’s Homeless World Cup by a team of men – and for the first time – a team of women.
The teams have been brought together by Street Soccer NI who use the power of football to transform the lives of people who are homeless.
Last year’s men’s team finished 13th in the tournament which was NIs best achievement to date. But the real benefits occurred off the pitch.
Of the nine participants involved six now have their own home, three got into full time employment, and two players completed coaching badges with the IFA and became qualified referees.
Supporters and friends gathered for the team send off at Stormont yesterday.
Northern Ireland football legend Gerry Armstrong – who is Street Soccer NI’s ambassador – attended the event to wish the players well and took the time to chat to the players about the upcoming tournament.
He said: “I am so pleased to be an ambassador for Street Soccer NI. What a great cause to be involved with and a wonderful opportunity to help people representing our country achieve their goals to compete in a World Cup competition, this can give them the confidence, belief and a chance to get jobs, and homes, and to improve their situation in life.”
Men’s Captain Conor Deane, who has had trials with Port Vale and Tranmere Rovers, and is now playing for Maiden City in Londonderry, said: “I was homeless for three months. Street Soccer has helped me wise up and see things differently and not to give up when things are hard. I’m over the moon being told I’m captaining the team in the World Cup and I like that I have to set the standard as people are looking up to me.”
Squad member Steven Hawkins, said: ‘Three months ago I joined Street Soccer and I was a mess. I was homeless, self-harming on a daily basis, and feeling sorry for myself.
“I didn’t have the motivation to get out of bed and do something with my life. My life has changed dramatically, I haven’t self-harmed since joining Street Soccer and now want to get into work and get a home of my own. I’m proud of representing Northern Ireland, it’s something I never thought I could do.”
Phoebe Clawson who is part of the NI Women’s team said: “This is a dream come true, I never thought I would get to play football again due to being in a bad car accident two years ago.
“The doctors and surgeons said I would never play football again, this broke my heart and shattered my dreams. All thanks to Street Soccer my dreams are coming true. My family are very proud of me. I now want to become a football coach, get my own home and own a BMW.”
Ashley Young commented: “Representing my country in the World Cup means a lot to me.
My whole family loves football and me being a part of it makes my family so proud.
“Being picked had made me very confident in myself and now I can communicate more. I’ve made more friends since joining the project and feel a part of a team. I am currently seeking employment and doing courses and I plan to move into my own house when returning from the World Cup.”
IFA Foundation Director of Football Development and Chairman of Street Soccer NI, Michael Boyd, said: “I would like to congratulate all the players selected for our Homeless World Cup squads this year, especially for our first ever women’s team, as they are pioneers and history makers. Participating in Oslo will enrich the lives of all and for some will open doors that enable lives to be transformed.”
Aidan Byrne, co-founder of Street Soccer NI and Manager of the Hosford Homelessness service at East Belfast Mission, added: “Over the past four years we have seen the Homeless World Cup project have a huge positive impact on the lives of the players.
“I’m delighted that our players from the first womens team now have the same opportunities to transform their lives. I’m really proud to be involved in this project which is using an innovative approach to tackling homelessness.”
The Homeless World Cup has been running for the past 12 years.
There will be 50 countries represented at this year’s tournament which takes place from August 29 to the September 5.