“INSP gave birth to the Homeless World Cup”

Young girls from India throw themselves to the ground to celebrate a hard-fought victory. A Mexican defender helps her Chilean opponent to her feet after a fierce tackle. The team from Namibia jump and sing in a circle before a match and Team Ireland embrace players from the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada after their first-round encounter.

The Indian team at the Opening Ceremony. Photo: Paul BenceThe inclusive and optimistic spirit of the Homeless World Cup is spreading like wildfire around Museum Place in Amsterdam. More than 600 players from 48 nations around the world will be competing until 19 September.

Now in its 13th year, the international tournament has come of age. On the second day of play, the organisation’s founder and president Mel Young explains that it all began 14 years ago in Cape Town, South Africa, at INSP’s annual global summit.

“We will always be connected with INSP because, as I describe it, INSP gave birth to the Homeless World Cup,” says Mel, after meeting players and volunteers.

He recalls how the idea for the tournament was originally born a discussion between him and his friend Harald Schmied, who ran Megaphon – a street paper for homeless and formerly homeless vendors in Graz, Austria – at the time.

Every year, INSP brings together the world’s street papers – which now total 113 papers in 36 countries – to network and share ideas. The pair were trying to think of a way they could get their vendors together, and football quickly emerged as a common language.

Team members from Ireland and Granada embrace. Photo: Alex WalkerEighteen months later, in July 2003, the first Homeless World Cup took place in Graz.

In the following years, many street football teams grew up in parallel with street papers, but a strong bond still exists between the two and many vendors attend the tournament.

Mel points out that the team from Greece has brought the story of the Homeless World Cup full circle.

The Greek team is made up entirely of street paper vendors who sell Shedia magazine in Athens, and is managed by the publications’ editor Chris Alefantis.

Just as the Homeless World Cup grew out of the street paper movement, Shedia was born out of the local street football team. It launched in 2013 and now supports more than 150 vendors across Athens.

“It’s quite interesting following the whole development,” says Mel. “It’s fascinating because in the first year that’s how we started. The teams were from the street papers so in the very first year all they players were vendors.

“As the whole thing has developed the football has gone off on its own and developed separately. Now it’s going full circle with Greece that started as a team and is now a street paper.”

INSP and the Homeless World Cup continue to share and champion a common goal – to empower people to lift themselves out of homelessness and poverty, be it through scoring goals or selling a street paper.

“The point is, we’ll always be good partners,”said Mel. “We’re separate organisations but still like family.”

Mel Young with Colin Farrell at this year's Homeless World Cup Photo: Paul Bence