Locals Aim For Glory At Homeless World Cup

A squad of 16 men and women from Northern Ireland are hoping for success as they prepare to compete in the Homeless World Cup.

Held in Cardiff, the street football tournament brings together players from over 50 countries, all of whom have faced homelessness or social marginalisation at some point in their lives.

Ahead of the 17th edition of the event, the male and female teams were given a fitting sent off at Windsor Park, the region's home of football.

Each of the competitors became involved with the initiative, funded by the Department for Communities, through Street Soccer NI, a registered charity football project for the disadvantaged groups within society. Crucially, the project boasts a range of support services developed to ensure that the players are equipped with the best opportunities to transform their lives when they return.

Janette Kelly, who will compete in the female squad, has told of how the sport has aided her mental health. Speaking at the send off event, Janette said: "I feel excited to represent my country at the Homeless World Cup. Since I have been involved with Street Soccer, it has helped me with my anxiety and depression. It has given me motivation and something to look forward to every week. I love the social aspect and being involved in a team and meeting people from other countries."
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Glen Simpson, who will also represent Northern Ireland in Cardiff next week, said playing for his country is a life altering opportunity. He commented: "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and will be some buzz. It's helped me mentally and helped keep me away from the drink. I was drinking heavy before I was selected for the trials and now Street Soccer has helped me overcome it and focus on other stuff. I hope to get employment and a place to live when I get back."

The teams will compete in Bute Park in a purpose-built stadium in the heart of the city. With over 500 players, the tournament is expected to attract crowds of over 80,000 with millions more tuning in from around the world.

Team Northern Ireland are being funded as part of the Northern Ireland Executive's Together: Building a United Community Strategy. Speaking at the reception, Kathryn Hill, Director of Active Communities at DfC said: "The Department is delighted to support Street Soccer NI and the teams travelling to compete and represent Northern Ireland at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff City. This experience, together with an intensive wraparound support service, represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for these players to transform their lives. This project started with 16 individuals and now they are one team. I congratulate everyone on being selected and I wish them every success in Cardiff and for their futures."

Justin McMinn, Manager and co-founder of Street Soccer Northern Ireland added: "This is a dream come true for all the players, a chance to represent your country in a sport that you love. Over the last six years we have witnessed the impact this event has on the players with many of them breaking out of homelessness and unemployment on their return. They will come back full of confidence and motivation to make positive changes in their lives."

The tournament will run from Saturday 27-Saturday 03 August.


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