England are seeking revenge against Italy in Brazil on Saturday – but the game will have a very different meaning if the two nations meet again at the Homeless World Cup later this year.
The tournament will be held in Santiago, Chile in October and is expected to host 74 nations. Each game is seven minutes long and sees teams of four-a-side – both men and women – competing against each other on the streets, to be crowned world champions.
Founder Mel Young told Channel 4 News: “We find that each country is very different. In Uganda, for example, the Homeless World Cup helps players become chicken farmers, in Brazil and Argentina homeless people are marginalised and in the west it is connected to drug abuse and unemployment.”
In England “a lot of the players who take part come from sheltered accommodation, hostels and foyers”, Gareth Parker, head of the Homeless FA, told Channel 4 News.
“With Homeless FA we’re all about perception changing. I think there is a very negative stigma surrounding homelessness. We call them players rather than clients.”
Homeless FA runs five-day training programmes for players in partnership with professional football clubs. Players also occasionally train at the national football centre at St George’s Park.
The charity has also used the run-up to the Fifa World Cup in Brazil as a pretext to select 40 players who could take part in Chile.
Mr Parker added: “It’s inspiring to be an England player – but even more so when you’ve got so much football on around you at the moment.
“We select our Team England players through our training centres. It’s not a trial system – we’re more about using personal development as a framework.”
The Italian national side, who have won the tournament twice, is run by a non-profit charity to promote sports and physical education through football.
As well as taking part in the Homeless World Cup, it also the runs the Homeless Italian Cup street soccer tournament, where charities and homeless shelters take part.
Alessandro Dell’Orto (above), team manager of the Homeless Italian Cup, told Channel 4 News: “In Italy we select players who want to play football. Previously we were competing to win, but now we want to create a family and a football team with the spirit of the Homeless Italian Cup.”
So how will the game end when/if the two teams play against each other in October? And what do they think the result will be when the two nations meet in Brazil on Saturday?
“The games between Italy and England at the Homeless World Cup are always heated,” Mr Dell’Orto told Channel 4 News. “In Brazil, I predict a draw – 1-1 or 2-2.”
Mr Parker added: “We have a good natured rivalry with the Italians – but a big ethos about the Homeless World Cup isn’t about winning and losing – it’s about a celebration. In terms of Brazil, I think it will be a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.”
You can find out more about the Homeless World Cup at www.homelessworldcup.org, Homeless FA at www.homelessfa.org/betheball/ and the Italian FA at www.homelessitaliancup.org