Ireland’s representatives at the Homeless World Cup in Glasgow return to Ireland as Plate winners after seeing off Egypt in penalties in the final on Sunday, July 17.
Finishing the match at 4-4, the Irish team remained unbeaten during match time throughout the entire tournament, and once again took the upper hand in the first round of penalties against the Egyptians to bring the win back to the Emerald Isle.
Founded in 2001, the Homeless World Cup is a unique social movement that aims to use soccer to inspire homeless people around the world to change their lives. With teams from over 70 countries, over 100,000 people take part in homeless leagues globally, delivering an annual tournament for the national teams.
Despite victories over Lithuania, Bulgaria, America, Greece and Sweden in the first two rounds of the tournament, the Boys in Green were forced to go to penalties after last-minute goals from the opposition in several of their first matches meaning they lost out on the opportunity to compete in the final but instead entered the second tier Men’s Plate competition. By winning the final for the Plate, the Irish team came in ninth place overall, a fantastic feat considering the some 70 nations who take part.
The Irish team was made up of participants in the Irish Street League founded by Sean Kavanagh, the current editor of the Big Issue in Ireland.
A member of the International Network of Street Papers, the Big Issue is published every three weeks and acts as a means through which people from difficult backgrounds can build self-confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline and obtain the tools to fight addiction, by the selling the paper.
After bringing a group of men to the first Homeless World Cup in 2003, Kavanagh saw the effect the soccer tournament had on the group and decided to establish the Irish Street League, which attracts 500 participants each year.
“Through that [working at the Big Issue] I realized there were a lot of young people in Ireland and society had nothing to offer them,” Kavanagh told IrishCentral. “Even with the Celtic Tiger at its height, they were left on the sideline, as it were.”
“Through this national network we brought a group to the World Cup and noticed major changes in those lads. They were more confident and we decided to start a street league program.
“It’s helped lads to gain a focus. Over the years the league has given them the confidence to re-establish contact with families when they’ve fallen out. They’ve had the confidence to secure jobs and go back to university.
“It’s been an incredible catalyst for change. You would be amazed that one effect would have on the community and society at large."
Each year, through recommendations from people working with the street league throughout the country, and by watching teams play at an All-Ireland tournament held earlier in the year, eight players are selected to travel to the Homeless World Cup and play the four-a-side tournament.
The increasing problem of homelessness in Ireland, however, has seen a noticeable change in the people attending the street league, with a different type of homelessness emerging in the form of families unable to repay their mortgage.
“You can see it now, a different type with the homelessness crisis,” Kavanagh said.
“People with families no longer able to repay their mortgage. They’re not on the streets but in bed and breakfasts, even hotels, and have to get out the next day and don’t have real cooking facilities.
“It leads to a great insecurity. Imagine how the kids feel not knowing where they’re going to be staying.”
The league receives limited funding from the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Government, but most of its activities are self-funded.
“We seem to be struggling every year to get us to the World Cup,” Kavanagh admits, “and that’s really the thing that gets lads focused.
“Every year we have to bring a different team. So each year is a new year to get the chance at an international cap and to put on the green jersey.”
The team has even contemplated holding the World Cup in Ireland in the future, but funding has not yet been available to make it happen. There are rumors that a fictional movie on the team starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson may bring the spotlight needed to make this happen in the next few years.
If you would like to donate to the Irish Street League, you can do so here.