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Homeless World Cup Amsterdam: Northern Ireland squad gear up for tournament

A group of young men, who have experienced homelessness, are set to represent Northern Ireland at the 2015 Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam.

Friends and supporters were joined at the Skainos Centre by Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Arder Carson, to wish the eight man squad and their dedicated support team well in their bid for World Cup glory.

The eight players representing Northern Ireland, all of whom have experienced homelessness, are Kevin Ward, James Shaw, Seweryn Folman, Richard McKay, Darren Spiers, Gerard Toner, Tomasz Jarzynski, hailing from Belfast, and Derry man Ciaran Bradley. Previous team Captain Stephen Weldon who described his experiences as ‘life changing’ will be going to the tournament as a volunteer.

Gerard Toner from Belfast, said: ''I am buzzing. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and it’s going to change my life. I have never been on plane before and I'm looking forward to going to Amsterdam to play the game that I love. If it wasn’t for football I wouldn't be here."

Ciaran Bradley said: "It’s a new lease of life for me. I'm over the moon about getting the opportunity to play in the Homeless World Cup against teams from all over the world. I'm looking forward to experiencing other cultures. This is my highest achievement in football, I hope to do well out there."

The project is run by Street Soccer NI who works with homeless people and other marginalised groups through the medium of football. Its principal partners are Hosford (homelessness service of East Belfast Mission) and the IFA.

In 2014, the Northern Ireland Homeless World Cup team took home the Action Total Cup in Chile, and the experience has been life changing for them. All have been rehoused, a number have gone on to acquire Level 1 IFA badges with two becoming volunteer coaches in the community while another has become a volunteer ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, inspiring others to make changes in their lives. 

Outlining the impact of being involved, Justin McMinn, Street Soccer NI manager, said: "'This is a once in a life time experience for the players, a dream come true. Some of the team have never been on a plane before. Now, they are  representing their country at an international tournament in Amsterdam.

"This trip will not only be their best experience but it will also bring positive changes to their lives'.'

This year’s Homeless World Cup takes place in Amsterdam where more than 200,000 spectators are expected to watch players from over 50 countries compete for the title.

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