Northern Ireland World Cup hero and Street Soccer NI Ambassador, Gerry Armstrong, was on hand today to send off a squad of 18 players who, next week, will represent Northern Ireland at the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City.
The Homeless World Cup is an inspirational week-long street football tournament that brings together more than 500 players from over 50 countries who have faced homelessness and social marginalisation. It is expected that the tournament will attract crowds of more than 80,000 with millions more watching online around the world.
Street Soccer NI is being funded by the Department for Communities, as part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) Strategy. The funding aims to support young people from complex and challenging backgrounds to build confidence, self-esteem and develop social skills through sport and creativity. Specifically, the World Cup project uses the lure of Mexico to engage 9 males and 9 females in an intensive support programme that will ensure opportunities for the players to positively transform their lives upon return.
Speaking today at a special farewell reception at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, Justin McMinn, Manager and Co-Founder of Street Soccer Northern Ireland said: “This trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity for all the players, a chance to represent your country in an amazing country like Mexico. Over the last 5 years we have witnessed the impact this event has on the players with many of them breaking out of homelessness and unemployment on their return. They will come back full of confidence and motivation to make positive changes in their lives".
Brian Lyndsay, player, said: "This is a dream come true, a new start and chapter for my life. It’s an honour and privilege to put on the shirt to represent my country. To be in a bad situation and now for something good coming out of it. To be involved in a team with people of similar experiences makes me feel part of a family again."
Joleen Larkin, player, added: "I feel ecstatic to be part of this experience and the opportunity to go to this year’s Homeless World Cup in Mexico. I ended up homeless due to a relationship breakdown and there wasn't enough room in my family home. This is when I ended up in a hostel. At the minute I’m working. It’s hard balancing work life and hostel life, but with the help of Street Soccer it makes life that bit easier.”
Kathryn Hill, Director of Active Communities Division at the Department for Communities said: “The Department is delighted to support Street Soccer NI and the teams travelling to compete and represent Northern Ireland at the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City. This experience, together with an intensive wraparound support service, represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for these players to transform their lives. This project started with eighteen individuals and now they are one team. I congratulate everyone on being selected and I wish them every success in Mexico and for their futures."