Homeless World Cup helping players ‘find their way back’
World Cup and street leagues offer hope and sense of inclusion to those who need it most
The Irish team lifting the Tier 3 trophy at the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City
On the night of his 29th birthday, Danny Moore bunked down for the night in his car and grieved again for the mess he’d made of things. He was a cocaine addict and an alcoholic and with his finger on both triggers he had riddled so much of his life that all he could see now were the holes. He had been to prison, lost his job and his partner had put him out, telling him she loved him but he couldn’t be around the kids. Not like this.
The date was October 12th, 2017, and it had been two months since he’d started sleeping out. By now the late-summer mildness had gone out of the air and winter was beginning to snap. As he sat there shivering at three in the morning trying to ward off the cold so he could find a little sleep, he resolved that there had to be more to life than this.
Last weekend, Moore scored in the final for the Republic of Ireland team that won the Tier 3 trophy at the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City. When he arrived back in Dublin on Tuesday, he was coming home to the house in Blanchardstown he shares with his partner and two daughters. When he shook off the jetlag, he was back in work at the electrical wholesalers who kept his job open for him while he sorted himself out.
It wouldn’t be right to credit football with saving Danny Moore because addiction doesn’t work like that. Danny did the heavy lifting himself, putting down his stint in the treatment centre in Coolmine, rebuilding his own bridges, rewiring his own network his own way. But playing in the Irish Street Leagues gave him something to belong to when he had burnt through most of his other options.
Set up by Seán Kavanagh of The Big Issue in 2004, the street leagues run in Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Longford, Wexford, Waterford and Laois. Kavanagh has in the region of 500 male and female players taking part most of the year round, turning out for five-a-side matches in structured leagues. The leagues are aimed at the homeless and rough sleepers, addicts in rehab, ex-offenders, refugees and asylum seekers and the long-term unemployed. Mostly, they’re a place to go when you’re excluded from everywhere else.
“The street leagues make you feel there is hope,” says Moore. “They make you feel like you belong to something. When you’re down there, you’re around people who are going through the same things, who can bounce off each other. You could be feeling really down and someone will see that and they’ve gone through it the same as you have and they’ll just say, ‘Keep coming to football, keep at it.’
“We’ve all been there. All the lads on the team, whether it’s your street league team or the Ireland team last week in Mexico, I know their stories because my story is the same. I might not know the exact details but I don’t need to. We’ve all been there. We’ve all hurt the people around us, we’ve all suffered.
“I grew up thinking I was the odd one out, I had a chip on my shoulder. I got into the drugs scene, wanted to be the big person. I went to prison for four years and promised I wouldn’t go back but addiction is a spiral and it got out of control. So I ended up with nowhere to go only sleep in my car just over a year ago. Everybody at the Homeless World Cup has a story like that.”
Since its first staging in Graz, Austria, in 2003, the Homeless World Cup has been held annually in cities all around the world. The games are four-a-side, seven minutes-a-half. To be eligible to play, you have to be over 16 and to have either been homeless at some point in the year since the previous staging of the tournament or be in an addiction treatment programme having been homeless at some point in the previous two years. And it’s a one-time deal for everyone – the whole idea is that you’re eligible for one year because you hope to get things sorted by the time the next one comes around.
Over the past 16 years, teams from 73 countries have taken part. It has been staged in Europe, Africa, Australia and South and Central America. Kavanagh is in the middle of a campaign to get the 2020 tournament held in Dublin and while he has the verbal backing of Dublin City Council and the Lord Mayor, it’s the more tangible colour of support he needs to get it off the ground.
“It’s a possibility but it needs funding,” Kavanagh says. “Mexico City were able to host it because they were funded by Telmex, which is owned by Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world. They backed it and it was a huge success. For it to happen in Dublin, it would need a Denis O’Brien or a big corporation to step in and get behind it.
“I know Dublin City Council would love to do it but raising the money is difficult. We weren’t able to raise funds to bring a women’s team to Mexico this year, as we have done in the past. You’re always looking for funding.”
In Mexico, the Irish team was made up of players from Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Ennis. The trials started back in March and from over 100 candidates, eight were ultimately chosen to go. Coached by Thomas Morgan – captain of Kerr’s kids in Malaysia in 1997 – they did altitude training before they went, using the Altipeak facilities at the Junction 6 gym in Castleknock.
As it turned out, they found the going tough in the main tournament, losing four out of five in their group. Once they found their level, though, they were easily the best team in the plate competition, going seven games unbeaten and crowning it all with an 8-3 win over Romania last Sunday.
Of course, it was about football only up to a point. Every player from every country had scar tissue to share and even if it wasn’t visible to the untrained eye, they were among fellow travellers who knew. The sun was fairly merciless at times so the teams congregated in a huge marquee known as the chill-out tent. In there, they mingled and chatted and heard each other. The world is big but the world is small. There are wrong paths everywhere for you to go down.
“I didn’t know the extent of what I was doing until I saw other people,” says Moore. “I thought I was just my own person, doing my own thing. I thought I was the worst there ever was. Over there at the Homeless World Cup, you see that other people were down the same road and everyone had to do the same thing to get out of it.
“I was standing talking to a goalkeeper from Denmark one of the days and his life was no different to ours. It was the same story all over, people with tough upbringings, who got involved with drugs, got out of control and now they were finding their way back.
“I saw a lad one day who the organisers were looking to interview but he was reluctant to tell his story and I was just going, ‘You know what? You’ve nothing to be reluctant about. Don’t be ashamed of your past. We all have our own past. Tell your past. Tell your story, it might help someone.”
Life goes on. Moore can’t ever go to the Homeless World Cup again but he’s back at work and back at home and in his spare time, he helps out if they need him in Coolmine or at the street leagues. Free of drama, living quiet.
Kavanagh’s work goes on and on, with new faces turning up all the time at the leagues and the spiralling homeless crisis making him busier than ever. His packed schedule is society’s stain.
Football shouldn’t need to be this important.