Playing for Team Scotland is an unique and life-changing experience, say former Homeless World Cup Players John and Billy.
With Team Scotland returning to action in September, both John and Billy explained to us how quickly they found themselves amongst the Team Scotland’s set up, having only joined Street Soccer sessions in 2019 and representing their country in Cardiff later that summer.
“I was in a hostel when I first heard about Street Soccer, it took a bit of courage for me to actually come down” said Billy… “I loved it and after a month of being there, I was involved in Team Scotland. The timing was perfect.”
John added that the timing couldn’t have been better for him too, after being at a low point upon joining the Street Soccer team in Dundee.
“I came down at a similar time, and heard about the preliminary trials. I never knew much about it at first, I just really came down for a game of football. However, the timing of the trials was perfect. I really needed something to pick me up and give me a bit of purpose. I was really down at that point and only six weeks beforehand, I had been suicidal and in a really bad place. So, for me, to be picked up by Street Soccer and then have the opportunity to play for my country, was exceptional. It put me up on a pedestal, and to be honest, I’m still there! I am so grateful for the experience.”
Both of the guys, who are now sessional workers with our programmes in Dundee, are adamant that their life would not be the same without the experience of both the Homeless World Cup and the Four Nations tournaments, two years ago.
“The experience was quite overwhelming, but in a good way. It’s something you still sort of can’t believe happened, and how quickly it happened. Apart from my kids being born, it was the best experience of my life”, said John.
Billy was of a similar mindset, highlighting the impact the tournament had within his inner circles; “When you come from a difficult background, you find that special moments don’t really come around for you too often. This was incredibly special. It gave us a platform to express ourselves but most importantly changed how we are treated by other people. That all contributes to even how your family and friends see you.”
With a new Team Scotland squad on the horizon, both were keen to illustrate how unique the experience can be for prospective players.
Billy admitted that he knew very little of the tournament itself beforehand, but that it exceeded any expectations he might have had around it;
“I never knew what to expect, it was a massive eye-opener. To meet all these new people from different countries and different cultures was amazing. It was a real learning experience to hear how some of our opponents dealt with their own issues across the globe.”
These sentiments were echoed by John Jack, explaining the sort of impact the experience had on his attitude;
“The great thing about the experience, was that you’re coming back a better person. You are learning and adapting whilst you are away, meeting new people from different countries and dealing with the language barriers. Everyone is hugging and smiling, the inclusion of it all makes a great atmosphere and means that you are coming home with a different mindset to use going forward.
After representing Team Scotland at two tournaments that year, in both Cardiff and Belfast, the duo are under no illusions that the next Four Nations competition in Edinburgh will be special. Using their own experience to lean on, John reiterated that the football is not always the primary focus for players.
“Team Scotland will always look for players who will benefit most from the experience, rather than basing it on purely football reasons.”
Billy continued to underline that this ethos from Street Soccer is ultimately what contributed to saving his life.
“Street Soccer always made clear to us that when you come on the pitch, you leave your troubles at the door. When you go to any of these events with Team Scotland, it’s the same. Leave your issues at home and go and enjoy yourself. When I came back from the Homeless World Cup and went in to a volunteer role, I felt like I was on a real good path with purpose. Street Soccer saved my life .”
Representing your country at any level brings an immense sense of pride and both players stated that they’ll never forget that feeling. Now brimming with confidence, the Dundonians emphasised that any players considering to follow in their footsteps should not think twice about taking the opportunity.
“I’d say to anyone who wants to be part of Team Scotland to go and enjoy yourself. Grasp every opportunity in front of you because you won’t experience anything like it again. When you come home, your enthusiasm is bursting through the roof. You feel great about yourself and you want to help others feel like that too. That itself is very rewarding” said John.
Billy added that he initially worried about being judged on his travels, however those concerns quickly disappeared on arrival .”Its inclusive and welcoming. You need to go to enjoy yourself, express yourself and most importantly, be yourself! It’s the best place platform to express yourself and you need to live in the moment.”
With John and Billy now involved in various different volunteering roles and projects, it is clear to see the sort of positive impact their journey with Team Scotland has had on their lives. Billy stressed that things have fallen right in to place, after joining Street Soccer.
“Everything I do here, is stuff that I have always wanted to do. I haven’t really had the opportunity to do it before I got here but now I feel like it’s a great fit. I feel at home.”
To find out more about Team Scotland and other player stories, head to our dedicated page here. More information about the Homeless World Cup Foundation’s Four Nations Tournament will be released later this month.