Members of Northern Ireland’s Homeless World Cup team have received a fitting send-off at the region’s home of football.
A squad of 16 men and women will face players from more than 50 countries across the world at the Homeless World Cup tournament in Cardiff over the next week.
All of those competing have faced homelessness and social marginalisation.
They became involved in the team, which is funded by the Department for Communities, through the Street Soccer NI project.
Speaking at an official send-off event at Northern Ireland’s National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, Janette Kelly said Street Soccer has helped her with anxiety and depression.
“I feel excited to represent my country at the Homeless World Cup,” she said.
“Since I have been involved with Street Soccer, it has helped me with my anxiety and depression.
“It has given me motivation and something to look forward to every week.
“I love the social aspect and being involved in a team and meeting people from other countries.”
Another team member Glen Simpson described the event as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
“It’s helped me mentally and helped keep me away from the drink,” he said.
“I was drinking heavy before I was selected for the trials and now Street Soccer has helped me overcome it and focus on other stuff. I hope to get employment and a place to live when I get back.”
Justin McMinn, manager and co-founder of Street Soccer Northern Ireland, said the event has a transformative effect on many who take part.
“This is a dream come true for all the players, a chance to represent your country in a sport that you love,” he said.
“Over the last six 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‘.”
Kathryn Hill, director of Active Communities at the department, said they are delighted to support the team, and wished them every success in Cardiff and beyond.
The 17th Homeless World Cup will take place at Cardiff’s Bute Park from July 27 to August 3.
More than 500 players representing over 50 countries take part in the event.