For the host teams of the 13th Homeless World Cup, walking onto the pitch in Amsterdam’s Museum Square in front of a home crowd that includes Dutch King Willem-Alexander will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Players from The Netherlands might not have travelled as far as some of the 64 competing teams from 49 nations around the world, but getting to represent their country at this year’s tournament has still been a long journey. This is especially true for Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Lamboo, who, at 40, is the oldest member of the men’s side.
Jasper has dreamed of becoming a professional footballer since he was a child.
At 14, he was training on the junior team of FC Utrecht. But his hopes of one day wearing the orange jersey favoured by his national side were shattered when his parents divorced two years later. He became violent, was kicked out of school and says his mother couldn’t handle him.
Aged 18, he turned to drink to cope with the loss of his brother, who died in a climbing accident. Three years later, he became addicted to heroin and his life spiralled out of control.
A little more than two decades later, Jasper has finally overcome his addictions and discovered a new passion for the sport he once loved, thanks to his involvement in street soccer.
“I live for the sport again and I train five days a week,” he said in an interview with Amsterdam street paper Z!
“Next to this I coach and train football teams as a volunteer and I help to organise sports events. And one year later I have my own apartment and live on my own.”
“As keeper, I will defend my goal with my life.” – Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Lamboo.
Today, he is preparing to represent his country on an international stage. His mother, whom he finally reconciled with last New Year, will be cheering him on from the sidelines during the global street football festival, which runs from 12-19 September.
“For 20 years I had lived in social isolation and complete indifference. Suddenly it was as if I was born again and could finally let go of all my frustrations and misery,” added Jasper.
“It is a great honour. I could never have dreamed to be playing for the national team at an international tournament in front of our king. My dreams as a young boy have come true.
“As keeper, I will defend my goal with my life. If I keep my goal clear then we have a big chance to win. And what is better than becoming world champion in your own country?”
Jasper and his teammates hope to achieve that goal with the help of their coach, freestyle football legend Soufiane Touzani. Former professional player of 13 years René van Rijswijk has been coaching the women’s side since June.
René is no stranger the positive impact street soccer can have. The former player for Dutch pro club Cambuur coached the women’s team from Leeuwarden City to victory in the Dutch Street Cup in 2014. His team went on to represent The Netherlands at the Homeless World Cup in Chile the same year and ranked 6th.
René says the changes he witnessed in his players’ confidence and self-belief, gained through their participation in street soccer, has helped them score life goals off the pitch as well.
“Sport and football can really help people better their lives. This is why I love doing it,” he told INSP. “It’s such a joy and the Homeless World Cup is one of those events you just wouldn’t want to miss for the world. You see these people who are taking steps towards a better future which takes a lot of courage and stamina but they are very happy that they are there. When you see that happening around you, and all the high fives, it’s incredible.”
Across The Netherlands, street soccer teams in 21 cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Maastricht compete annually in the Dutch Street Cup, run by the Life Goals Foundation.
“The Homeless World Cup is one of those events you just wouldn’t want to miss for the world.” – Dutch coach René van Rijswijk.
This year, Dutch players were nominated from regional teams by their coaches. They were selected not only for their football skills but also how far they had progressed in their lives away from the pitch.
This weekend the women’s side will take part in their last training camp before the tournament begins. “The girls are doing great. It’s absolutely wonderful to see,” says René. “The main thing is to make sure this will be an experience that they will never forget, and can build on for the rest of their lives.”
The Dutch Men’s team play their opening match on 12 September against Northern Ireland, followed by the Women’s team who take on Argentina.
While René believes having the support of a home crowd will boost his players’ confidence, the coach hopes that spectators will embrace the spirit of the tournament and cheer for all teams involved.
“Dutch people love football so I really hope the people of Amsterdam are going to be there every day to cheers us on and be there for all the other players because that will make it even better for everyone.”
To all those taking part in this year’s tournament, René says, “Please feel welcome and let’s all make this unforgettable.”
Additional reporting by Piet Hermans from Z!
The 2015 Homeless World Cup will take place from 12-19 September at Museum Square in Amsterdam. INSP is proud to be a media partner for this year’s Homeless World Cup, particularly as the competition came about due to a late night conversation at our Summit, many years ago.