By Amy Hetherington, The Big Issue Australia
Meet the new Street Socceroos! Eight of the fittest and finest Big Issue Street Soccer stars are representing Australia in the 17th annual Homeless World Cup. They’re in Cardiff, Wales, where they are competing against 50 other nations. For some, it’s their first time overseas. For all, it will be a life-changing experience.
“I was volunteering first, and I liked it too much so I became a player,” laughs Corey, the Street Socceroos goalie. “I find that playing has improved me heaps. I’ve got ADHD and since I’ve been playing soccer I don’t have any anger inside me any more… I’ve been taking it out on the ball.”
He still helps Hobart coach Matt get everything ready before training, and enjoys meeting new people on the pitch. “I enjoy coming to Street Soccer because it’s so friendly and supportive, no-one has a bad thing to say.” He’s looking forward to meeting new people in Wales, and seeing a different country: “This is my first time out of Australia, and I’m looking forward to that.”
“Australia has given me a lot of things, you know. I’m really proud to be representing my country at the Cup. The feeling is great, I’m very excited,” says Sayed, who joined Street Soccer in 2012 soon after arriving in Australia. “I was eight when I left Afghanistan, and I was in Iran as a refugee.”
Now he works in construction, trains twice a week and plays every Sunday. “Soccer has helped me a lot, to learn new skills, keep me active and busy all the time. And I meet new people every week.”
“I went to the Nationals in Sydney – it was pretty good. I kicked a goal, and had fun,” says Stevie. He was referred to Street Soccer in 2014 by one of his carers who knew his love of sport. “We train every Tuesday afternoon. It has helped me along; improved my life in a good way. I feel good.”
He’s made some close friends through soccer, and can’t wait to play with his new teammates in the World Cup tournament: “I am excited, this is my first time overseas. I will miss Townsville a lot.”
“When I arrived in Australia, I didn’t know many people,” says Nik, who was born in Canberra but has lived in Chile most of his life. That was seven years ago. Now, thanks to Street Soccer, he has found a community. “Because I grew up in South America, soccer has always been a big thing. Joining the program helped me meet people, have exercise and have a laugh. It’s been really good physically and mentally. It’s great to be given this opportunity to represent the country I was born in.”
Nik is “excited nervous” about travelling to Wales, and is looking forward to talking to players from all around the world. “You just communicate through the ball and your feet,” he says
“This is my first time overseas. I’m a bit nervous, excited for sure,” says Peter. “It’s probably a trip of a lifetime.” Peter is no stranger to big-stage competition, having competed in National Championships six years ago – and it had a positive impact. He’s taken on a leadership role, welcoming new members to the squad. “My life’s changed a bit, I’ve become more independent and my fitness has improved,” he says. “I get to meet new friends, get out of the house and enjoy sport.”
“Street Soccer has given me a sense of responsibility and accountability, and it’s given me a sense of connectedness that was missing in my life,” says Joel, who was sleeping rough and struggling with addiction when he first started playing. “When it comes to Street Soccer, it’s a moment we can all share.”
Since he got the call-up to Wales, Joel says he’s found a whole new level of fitness. “I feel a lot happier. I’ve never been to Europe and I’m excited about meeting people from all diverse cultural backgrounds. The more people I meet, the more I learn about myself,” adds Joel, who recently graduated as a holistic counsellor, and is looking forward to helping others turn their lives around, just like he did.
“I can’t wait to play in the Cup! I don’t know what I would’ve done if there wasn’t any Street Soccer. I was homeless, but Susie from Street Soccer came over and encouraged me to play, made me feel welcome.” While Tina admits she was too upset to enjoy herself at first, she kept going…and has done for nine years. “My mental health is much better and I feel happier thanks to Street Soccer. Now I’m not homeless, I’m working, and I’ve got lots of mates; outside of soccer we go to the movies or have a coffee.” And she reckons she may even be a better soccer player than her three boys!
“I was walking past a training session in Parramatta and I thought I would join up. It helped me get fit and make new friends, and it’s given me a new perspective,” says Ferass. Eight years later, he plays competition soccer on the weekend, too, and prides himself on fair play. “I’m always encouraging other people and cheering them on as much as possible.” In terms of the World Cup, he thinks the Street Socceroos have “a good chance of winning a few games…we’ll just have to see how the other teams are when we get there.”