Changing lives through football: the Homeless World Cup

After Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney’s recent tiff over his contract with Sir Alex Ferguson, you would be forgiven for having a somewhat cynical attitude towards football. After all, Rooney’s assertion that he felt he could no longer be sure that his club matched his ambitions earned him a new five year contract, thought to be worth £42 million.

Despite the opulent nature of the Premier League, football has a great capacity for good.  The Homeless World Cup has been demonstrating this on an annual basis since it began in Graz, Austria in 2003 with 18 nations competing. Since then, it has expanded to incorporate 64 national teams at this year’s tournament in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil's Rafael scores at this summer's Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Photographers for Hope

It is a project that has helped thousands of disadvantaged people across the world, and Scotland manager David Duke is just one of them.

Once homeless himself, David has overcome family bereavement, homelessness and alcoholism to manage his nation to the 2007 Homeless World Cup and set up his own charity, Street Soccer Scotland – a sister charity to the Homeless World Cup – in April 2009.

“I’m just one story of many,” explains David, “and not just in Scotland, but across the world. What I can do for the next couple of guys that come in is say ‘look, if I can do it, you can do it.’ I was just given an opportunity, and I worked really hard and I managed to get something out of it, and now all these other guys are doing the same.

“Being stuck in a hostel is very isolated and there’s nothing to do. Having that something and taking part in football motivated me. Being involved and playing for the [Homeless] World Cup team gave me confidence. That whole experience made my say ‘I don’t want to let this go. I want to remain part of it,’ so I got my coaching badges and started coaching youth teams, and it just catapulted from there.”

The statistics are impressive. In 2007, The Homeless World Cup released figures stating that 92% of participants in the tournament had a new motivation for life, 89% had improved social skills and 35% had subsequently found gainful employment.

“The fact that they [Homeless World Cup participants] have made that team means that they’ve achieved something,” says David, “to get on that flight and be part of the World Cup; that means they’ve already achieved a major goal, and that leads to more goals being achieved off the pitch. A lot of guys will have stopped drinking alcohol or reduced their drug intake in the build-up to the tournament, and they may have addressed some mental health or homelessness issues.

“What football does is that it energises them and motivates them.  All we’re doing is providing these guys with an opportunity to get involved in something, and then it’s up to them to take that on to better themselves and work harder to get back to having as normal a life as possible.”

David Duke (far left) with his Scotland side. Photo: Photographers for Hope

According to David, part of the project’s success can be attributed to football’s universal appeal.

He says: “Not many sports are as easily accessible as football. With other sports like tennis, there’s racket costs and court hire. All you need is a couple of mates and a ball. Not only that, it goes right through the classes. You can have a pound in your pocket or a thousand pounds in your pocket, and you can still take part in football. You don’t need to have money to get involved. We’ve put in an application to send a women’s team as well as a men’s team to Paris 2011 next year. It’s about building a camaraderie and meeting people in a similar situation.

“You’ve got up to 64 nations in their national colours in such a small area. The Africans dancing and the South Americans singing. It’s a real good atmosphere and a good place to be.”

Despite his success as manager of the Scottish homeless team -Scotland are currently ranked sixth in the world – David harbours no intentions of taking over Craig Levein’s job.

“I wouldn’t take it!” he half-jokes, “doing this doesn’t mean I’m going to be the next José Mourinho. Football’s got much more worth when you’re working at a community level. It’s not about the millions of pounds that goes on in the Premiership. If you look at the social value and social investment of football in society, it far outweighs the Premiership.”

If you are interested in finding out more about the Homeless World Cup or want to get involved, visit

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