Soccer and street papers: Players from Surprise’s street soccer project are Switzerland’s representatives at the 2019 Homeless World Cup

Many of the nation teams participating in the 2019 Homeless World Cup are made up of players from, stem from parallel street soccer projects, or are in some other way connected and associated with, street papers. We have already heard from the Street Socceroos from The Big Issue Australia representing their country at the tournament, and they are joined by teams from Greece, Ireland, Korea and Switzerland.

The Swiss team are made up of players who are involved with Surprise’s established street soccer programme. INSP caught up with the squad’s eldest player Axel Woltmann just after an unfortunate loss left some of the players reeling.

Axel Woltmann, a member of the Surprise street soccer project which has been representing Switzerland at the 2019 Homeless World Cup.

Axel, 55, on the other hand, was surprisingly laid back. “This has been an amazing event. I give my best, but I’m not sad if we lose. It’s more about meeting people, the whole experience.”

Born in Germany, Axel and his family quickly moved to Switzerland, where he has lived most of his life. Finding himself struggling to find a job, he eventually found his way into the team.

“I am not homeless, but I am still unemployed,” he says, as we sit away from the main areas of play in a tent, where throughout the week, debates, podcast recordings and other extracurricular activities are ongoing, most of them with a social focus. “The system in Switzerland means that you get a fair bit of money for social help, but if you are in that situation for a certain amount of time, you go a level lower. You get just the basic amount to survive.

Switzerland in action at the 2019 Homeless World Cup

“I was unemployed for two years, and I had the opportunity to join a coaching and mentoring programme for people over the age of 50. We were paid a visit by Lavinia [Besuchet, who coordinates Surprise’s street soccer project] looking for football players. It was a bit of a coincidence, but it was something I immediately wanted to do.”

Christian Müller, the team’s assistant coach, explains more about the project: “We organise a Swiss league where we work with social institutions who bring their people to our tournaments. We invite all the players that are interested to play, with the opportunity of a one-time chance to play at the Homeless World Cup. That means it’s eight new players every year. They are invited to training sessions, and we put together a team with good dynamics. It’s more about motivation than about skills.”

The Swiss team (left) after conceding a goal to host nation Wales. [Credit: Homeless World Cup / Mile 44 (]

Like the tournament, Axel and his team is a diverse one. “We are quite a colourful team. We have players from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Albania, and Syria, as well as Switzerland.

“I think in football, as they always say, team spirit is so important. In our team, it can be difficult to manage losses. I am the most experienced, age-wise and for how long I’ve been playing football, so I just enjoy every game. That’s what is most important: do your best and make friends.”