A team from Greece, which includes three vendors from the street paper, Shedia, will compete for a trophy sponsored by INSP at the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam today, 19 September.
One year ago, the closest Stella Kantzilidou had come to a football was watching her home team POAK FC play in Thessaloniki, a port town in the north of mainland Greece.
Today, she’s representing her country in a final against Switzerland in the sixth tier of this year’s tournament.
The 41-year-old has been a vendor for the Greek street paper Shedia since March 2014. The publication, run by NGO Diogenes, launched in 2013 with the help of INSP. The NGO has also been running a football programme since 2006 and this is the second time it has helped Greek players take part in the Homeless World Cup.
Stella first heard about the Homeless World Cup after a fellow vendor told her about competing in last year’s tournament in Santiago, Chile.
She’s thrilled to be here in Amsterdam competing in the tournament. Whoever ends up with the most goals, Stella says the team are already winners.
“I like the energy I need to put in and the effort to gain my goals,” she says.
“It’s an amazing experience and I’m sure my life will change totally after this. I like connecting with other people – we join together, we dance together, we are a big family and I’m very excited about that.
“Even though I can’t speak much English, sharing smiles and high-fives with all the teams is like we have exchanged experiences of a lifetime.”
Like thousands of Greeks, Stella’s life was devastated by the financial crisis that continues to cripple her country. Six years ago, she lost her part-time job distributing leaflets for Lidl in Thessaloniki. Stella was still recovering from back surgery, and her options for work were limited.
With no income, she quickly fell behind on rent. Had it not been for her parents taking her in, Stella says she would have been out on the streets. She now lives in a flat owned by her family, which she helps pay for by selling Shedia.
She remembers the first time she sold the paper: “It was fantastic. When I got my first 10 copies I remember I was on Cominon Street [in the centre of Thessaloniki]. I used the slogan ‘Street paper Shedia it scores against unemployment’. In about three hours I sold all 10.”
“When I was crossing the streets I was flying because I could hear the clink of coins in my pocket!”
Stella now sells 150-200 street papers a week, working 12 hours a day in high temperatures. But this is more than a job to Stella. She says the team are like “my second family.”
“Shedia is everything for me,” she adds. “It was the piece of my life that was missing for me to be independent from my parents again and to support myself. It’s my job, it’s the bread that I eat everyday.”
Stella says playing in the Homeless World Cup has been a boost to her confidence and has inspired her to work harder on her fitness and strengthen her back muscles.
She is also determined to help bring the first all-women Greek team to the tournament in the future.
“When I go home I will share this amazing experience with women about meeting all these people from all over the world,” she says. “You meet seven other people and you become a team. To hear people’s stories is a nice experience. This is a way to make important decisions about your life.”