World Cup in Mexico offers sporting chance for homeless footballers

first_imgIt all created an unusual dilemma for a Scotsman – an invitation to help coach England. In the circumstances though, his acceptance was never in doubt. “I’m so proud of our squad,” he said before detailing the experience of one player whose development has been so marked she will enter full-time employment on her return to the UK.“People talk about second chances but some of our players never really had a first chance in life. I believe you should never shut a door on anyone; if people had shut a door on me, I wouldn’t be here today.“ Sport has the power to do so much; football really can transform lives. Being part of the World Cup can have a huge impact on young people’s prospects. It gives them confidence and helps give them the tools to get jobs and have lives – after all how many people can say they’ve played for England?”Those who are about to be capped in Mexico include a 20-year-old who wants to be known only as Natalia. “It’s an amazing opportunity,” said a young woman who became homeless after a family breakdown. “The feeling of being chosen to represent your country, I can’t put it into words. And football keeps me active – and focused.”In a wider context, the tournament offers a refreshing example of international, cross-border, cooperation. While the Homeless World Cup – a registered charity – covers players’ expenses and accommodation, each team is run by a national homelessness organisation (in England’s case Centrepoint) responsible for funding flights and kit.All that remains is 400 games – matches last 14 minutes – in the coming week as countries compete for two trophies; men’s and/or mixed and women’s. While some of the 67 competing teams in Mexico are not segregated, FA rules dictate England must field separate male and female sides. “They all support each other though; they’re very much one squad rather than two teams,” McManus said.For some of his proteges it will be their first time abroad. “It’s going to be a fabulous experience,” he said. “And meeting players from other countries teaches them a bit about the world. It can show them that, despite their problems, they’re very lucky to live in England.” Share via Email Share on Messenger As the clocks went back and another gloomy British winter beckoned, Craig McManus developed an enjoyable daily ritual. “I kept checking the weather forecast for Mexico City,” he said. “It’s been around 23C.”McManus landed in the Mexican capital on Sunday but his trip is about much more than finding an antidote to vitamin D deprivation. The 43-year-old Glaswegian is a street football coach and senior development officer at Centrepoint, the youth homelessness charity, and he will spend the next week on England’s coaching staff at the Homeless World Cup. Nobody judged me. No one was asking if I was clean. I wasn’t defined by my pastCraig McManus Different goals: what street kids want from the other World Cup Eventually “a moment of clarity” led him to talk openly to his GP and he has never looked back. Following rehab, he was offered trials for Scotland’s Homeless World Cup squad and soon installed as captain.“I suddenly felt like a superstar,” he said. “At times we were playing in front of 3,000 people. And nobody judged me, no one was asking if I was clean, I wasn’t defined by my past. Addiction causes isolation but football gave me connections. My family came to watch, as did friends who I’d lost contact with over the years.”Among those getting in touch was the woman who is now his partner. She encouraged him to move to London where their relationship blossomed and he began working, initially as a volunteer, for Centrepoint. Six months after that he was on the staff and heading for rapid promotion. People talk about second chances but some of our players never really had a first chanceCraig McManus Share on Facebook Homelessness Five hundred players from 47 countries have convened for an annual event which kicks off on Tuesday and is expected to attract 200,000 spectators, with many more watching this often frenetically fast-paced festival of street football via online streaming.Every player now acclimatising to Mexico City’s altitude has experienced some form of social exclusion, including homelessness, mental health problems and drug dependency. England’s 16-strong squad comprising eight men and eight women – street football is four-a-side with the four substitutes seeing plenty of action – has been selected by Centrepoint officials, with several budding internationals emerging from community initiatives run by Premier League clubs, including Newcastle, Southampton and Arsenal. Craig McManus turns out for Scotland at the 2016 Homeless World Cup in Glasgow. Photograph: Pep Masip/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo Share on Pinterest Facebook Share on WhatsApp Football features Share on LinkedIn Pinterest They were picked not merely for their football ability – although with small pitches and the tempo high, ball skills matter – but teamwork, resilience and leadership potential.McManus views World Cup participation as an inviting, if challenging, climbing frame offering the scaffolding necessary to help players take some control of their futures. “We’re not promising to transform people’s lives but we are offering a wonderful experience, which can act as a leg up,” he said. “It can help them reconnect with the world and realise things really are possible.”He should know. Little more than three years ago, McManus was a drug-addicted, recently bereaved, Edinburgh hostel dweller who had lost his home, but by 2016 he had completed a tough rehab programme and was captaining Scotland in the 2016 tournament in Glasgow.A gifted teenage footballer, McManus played in the United States and turned professional in Scotland. Early in his career, though, he developed substance abuse problems and, at the age of 25, became a retired former pro.Although he started coaching street football, the death of his parents triggered a downward spiral which saw McManus turn reclusive. “Pride and ego come into it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to be honest, to admit you need help.” Share on Twitter Topics Twitter Read more Reuse this contentlast_img

Posts Tagged with…

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *