By Laura Smith
Not many teams have travelled further to compete in the Homeless World Cup than Australia. But the Street Socceroos say the experience has already been well worth the journey.
“I’m speechless,” says goalkeeper Shannon Knegt. “I’ve never been overseas before. Everyone in Glasgow is so friendly, and the sights are awesome.
“It’s fantastic meeting all the different teams and learning about different cultures.”
Shannon is one of seven homeless and disadvantaged players representing Australia. The team was selected from around 400 players by Community Street Soccer, an initiative from The Big Issue Australia.
Jeremy Urquart, The Big Issue’s National Operations Manager is also the team’s manager. He says the team are thrilled to be in Scotland, home to both INSP and Homeless World Cup founder Mel Young.
The Big Issue Australia has run its street soccer programme for over a decade. The initiative helps hundreds of people in 18 locations across Australia to connect and develop through football.
“The Homeless World Cup is exciting for those seven players that we bring but for the 300/400 players that we average each week across the county, that’s where the rubber hits the road and we make real change,” says Jeremy.
“But this is massive for the people that we get to bring. The get hope, they get connection, they get belief and their goalposts change.”
Sporting a bandaged arm, goalie Shannon explains he suffered an injury while saving a goal in their Group C match against tournament favourites England, which they eventually lost 0-13. But he hopes to be back in goal when his team take on Chile.
Australia may have won just one out of their first five matches, but the team from down under remains optimistic and have already gathered plenty of local support.
After a long haul flight from Melbourne, the players were given a boost by a welcome from Scott McDonald, an Australian professional footballer currently playing for Glasgow side Motherwell.
A 8-3 win over Slovenia has buoyed their spirits but, as coach George Halkias explains, this is one football contest where the endgame isn’t just about lifting a trophy.
“The atmosphere has been one of unity. I always say whether you finish first or last, you learn and gain something from this experience, wherever you come on the scoreboard,” he says.
“Each game and opportunity to interact is a great experience and a chance to learn new skills, like leadership.”
To ensure players gain something from each game, a different team captain is selected for every competition. Captaining Australia in the international tournament is a proud moment for Jackson Gore. He fled his home country South Sudan aged 14 and has lived in Australia since 2006.
“I’m happy just to be in Glasgow. I’m really having a great time here,” he says, speaking ahead of their match against Chile.
“Everything I expected, I’ve found here. As soon as we arrived in the airport it’s been positive and friendly. It’s really good, just like back home. It’s inspiring hearing everyone’s stories.”
Despite having only played together as a team this week, Jackson says his squad has already bonded.
“We’re just learning from the experience and keeping it together and supporting each other. That’s the Australian spirit.”