Street Soccer NI heads to Scotland for Four Nations Challenge Cup

By Gareth Fullerton

A group of footballers from Street Soccer NI are heading to Scotland this weekend to compete in the inaugural Four Nations Challenge Cup.

The charity, which works with the homeless and disadvantaged groups, is taking a men and women’s team to the tournament which is being held in Edinburgh on September 18-19.

Sides from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will face each other at Mound Precinct, right next to Princes Street and between the Scottish National Galleries.

Similar to the Homeless World Cup, the Four Nations Challenge Cup will be a 4-aside tournament with each game lasting 14 minutes.

Justin McMinn, CEO and Co-founder of Street Soccer NI said: ‘’Due to the pandemic we have missed out on attending the annual Homeless World Cup over the last two years.

"We’re so excited to be taking 16 players away again to represent their country in an amazing event.

"Playing in tournaments like this has a huge impact on the player’s lives as they go through weeks of support and training.

"Being involved in the team gives them a focus and all the encouragement they need to make positive changes in their lives.’’

Choice Housing and Northern Ireland Housing Executive are the team’s main sponsors this year.

Lawrence Jackson, Group Director of Corporate Services for Choice Housing said: “Initiatives like Street Soccer NI are doing amazing work in giving those affected by homelessness a real opportunity to improve their lives while developing new skills and friendships.

"We have supported Street Soccer NI for a number of years and have witnessed the positive impact it has had on participants.

"At Choice we are delighted to see the teams are participating at large tournaments despite the challenges the pandemic have presented.”

Richard Tanswell, Housing Executive, Homeless Policy and Strategy Manager added: "We’ve proudly supported Street Soccer NI over many years. Initiatives like this provide a productive channel for those in need of help and encouragement and in light of the pandemic our support is needed now more than ever.

"The Housing Executive’s work is about much more than bricks and mortar and we’re delighted to support participation at the inaugural Four Nations Challenge Cup.

"I’d like to extend our best wishes to all those both organising and taking part in this fantastic event”.

Ryan, 28, a player who has been involved with Street Soccer for over eight years, explained how the charity had helped him in recent weeks, and how much he was relishing the tournament in Scotland.

He said: "I’ve been battling drug and alcohol addiction for over 10 years but recently give it up.

"I’ve had enough, I need to change. I need to be there for my son. I’m now five weeks' sober and getting support from a charity called Heal the Hurt.

"Going to Street Soccer really helps as it gives me something to do each day from playing football to boxing training.

"I’m delighted to have been selected to represent Northern Ireland at the Home Nations Cup and really look forward to playing in Scotland going away with my street soccer family.’’

Louise, 40, a player who’s been homeless for over three years and lives in a hostel in West Belfast, added: "Living in the hostel has been tough, especially during Covid.

"One of the hardest things is having an eight-year-old and a 10-year-old who can’t go out playing with friends the way normal kids their age do. Also, a 15-year-old who has lots of challenges with having autism.

"I joined Street Soccer about two years ago and have never looked back. I just love the social aspect of it, it’s my go to place, I hate to miss a session. Street Soccer is always available to help and just a phone call away if I need advice.

"It's a dream come true to represent my country at the Four Nations Cup and to go away with my friends. I look forward to meeting people from other countries and to meet people who face similar issues as myself."

Street Soccer NI works with 150 people every week across Northern Ireland offering free access to weekly football sessions for men and women.

Once players engage in the football they get offered support with housing, employment, education, addiction and more. They currently have weekly sessions in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and Coleraine.

They plan to branch out to Strabane and Downpatrick later in the year.


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