Bryan Lindsay has been living on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, for the past six months.But somehow, he found himself on the other side of the world, in Mexico City, playing football for his country.
Lindsay is taking part in the Homeless World Cup, an international football tournament that seeks to raise awareness on homelessness, challenge perceptions about the people it affects, and empower the players who make it to this event.
“When I stick on my football boots and I step out onto that pitch, every worry in the world is gone,” Lindsay explained. “I have no worry at all. You’re like in this bubble that can’t be popped when you’re out on that pitch. Football helps me a hell of a lot. It’s not even about the football as well, it’s about the company around you, you make friends for life. We’ve made it like a family.”
Lindsay is one of more than 450 players selected to represent their home countries at the national level, for their level of play in homeless street football programs.
This is Mexico’s second turn to host the Homeless World Cup, the first being in 2012. All the action takes place in the capital’s iconic Zocalo. Athletes from 42 countries around the world are gathered there, and the matches are expected to draw as many as 200,000 spectators.
The event is backed financially by corporate sponsors, charitable donations, ticket sales, and television broadcasting rights. The money raised pays not only for the tournament and players’ travel expenses but raises money for the homeless football charity behind it. It operates in 72 countries and was founded by Scottish social entrepreneur Mel Young.
“It’s been a brilliant journey for us because so many lives have been changed through football, and that’s what the purpose of this is, to change people’s lives,” Young said.
“Really my view is that we shouldn’t be here at all, because homelessness shouldn’t exist. But it does now, in every country in the world, so while it does we’ll keep doing this, and as long as we’re having an impact, we’ll keep growing.”
According to Young, the organization has worked with more than 1.2 million people in its 16 years of existence. It’s given society’s most marginalized a helping hand toward a fresh start.
It’s something his Mexican counterpart, Daniel Copto, who runs ‘Street to Stadium Football Mexico’, has embraced. Copto is trying to help his young charges leave lives of poverty and addiction behind.
“We don’t demand that they meet those requirements. They themselves are the ones who meet them, because they know it’s the only way they’ll be able to join a team like this,” Copto said.
“They eventually understand that if they keep using drugs, drinking or smoking, they will never be good enough to play. So it’s about playing better, feeling better and being better, to get here.”
The Homeless World Cup runs through Nov 18. Win or lose, every player who has made it to the tournament, and already feels like a champion.