Three Derry people are set to fly out to Mexico this week to represent Northern Ireland in the Homeless World Cup 2018.
Marc Cross , who lives in the Methodist Mission in Crawford Square, has been chosen alongside fellow Derry man, team captain Matthew Gallagher, in the eight man squad.
Local woman Ruth Boyle meanwhile will lead out the Northern Ireland Women’s team against the cream of the world’s homeless squads at the iconic Zocalo in the heart of Mexico City.
Speaking ahead of their departure from Derry, Marc Cross said he was excited about visiting Mexico and for his squad to pit their skills against the other international teams.
Marc, who has lived at the Methodist Mission since becoming homeless back in May, said the squad will be departing late on Saturday night for Dublin before flying out to Mexico City via Amsterdam for 10 days.
The 30-year-old, who has previously notched up several years experience playing in the Night Owls with Curryneirin, through the hostel at Crawford Square, got involved with the national team through the Street Soccer programme, which is co-ordinated by Adrian Curry.
He was later selected for the Northern Ireland squad along with Matthew Gallagher after being invited for trials in Coleraine and later Belfast. “We go and train in Belfast twice a week and then there is a fitness regime, the gym, and that’s all paid for by Street Soccer,” he said. “It’s given me a sense of accomplishment, and I’m meeting new people all the time.”
Marc has also been gaining experience and developing skills which will help lead to a coaching role in the future. “I would like to do more coaching and get more qualified working with Street Soccer,” he said.
Staff and the men at the Methodist Mission in Derry have all been “very supportive and helpful”, Marc said, in the lead up to the 16th Homeless World Cup, which will see 500 players, all of whom have faced homelessness and marginalisation, from 47 countries participating. “I’m excited about going. This is the furthest I have ever travelled. We had a three-day residential in London and we did all the sights and everything there.”
While in Mexico, the Northern Ireland squads will be reunited with England’s two teams, whom they have already got to know and play against while in London, but it is unclear as yet whether they will face each other again in the official competition.
“We don’t know who we will be playing in Mexico yet. The draw is not made until Monday so we will find out about the group stages then,” Marc said, adding that there was some formidable opposition among the squads, not least the host nation.
Last year’s final saw Mexico beat Brazil in Oslo to claim their fourth consecutive Homeless World Cup victory. And this year they will have home advantage with crowds of more than 80,000 spectators expected with millions more watching online around the world.
Among those there in person, Marc said, could be scouts for big clubs on the look out talent. He points out that it was at the Homeless World Cup that Portuguese player Bebé was first spotted by Benfica before going on to play for Manchester United.
The Derry man said that when his squad were also looking forward to cheering on the Northern Ireland Women’s Team.
The Homeless World Cup is a week-long street football tournament.
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. It also ensures opportunities for the players to positively transform their lives upon return.
Speaking at a special farewell reception at Windsor Park this week, Justin McMinn, Manager and Co-Founder of Street Soccer NI 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 five 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”.