How football is changing lives for some of Wales’ most vulnerable people

Keri Harris, manager of Wales Homeless World Cup team

by Callum Ellis

FOOTBALL can change lives, as the men who will guide Wales to this year’s Homeless World Cup know all too well.

Keri Harris, an experienced third sector worker, established Street Football Wales 14 years ago in an attempt to improve the opportunities for those who are socially excluded in Wales.

In 2003 Harris was tasked with selecting a team to represent the nation in the first Homeless World Cup which took place in Graz, Austria.

The following year Street Football Wales was born and it has grown considerably since then.

“We didn’t exist in 2003, and it was only through attending the tournament, seeing the impact on our players that gave me the belief that I could build a project like Street Football Wales when I got back from Graz,” explained Harris.

Volunteer Wayne Ellaway captained Wales in the 2015 tournament in Amsterdam, and has now taken up a coaching role with the women’s team, known as the Welsh Warriors.

He has experienced past issues of drug abuse but used the power of football as a way of escaping his darkest moments.

“For me personally, I came from a dark place. I started playing football again and then Keri picked me for the Welsh squad,” said Ellaway.

“Within a few weeks I had been given the captain’s armband. I’ve never been so proud in all of my life.

“Becoming the Warriors’ coach this year has been an eye-opener, a bit more difficult, but I’m really enjoying it.”

Wales will once again field both a men and women’s team in this year’s competition which gets underway in Mexico next month.

Newport-born actor Michael Sheen OBE is patron of the charity and Wales internationals Ashley Williams and Loren Dykes are among its ambassadors.

And Ellaway feels the professionals who are associated with the organisation have a major impact on the players involved.

“It’s massive for morale of the players because we’re vulnerable, or I certainly was. To see someone of such stature who they may never meet in their life is remarkable.”

Mexico City will host the 16th edition of the tournament on November 13 with the event taking place over five days.

More than 500 players from all-over the world will travel to North America where they will be greeted by an expected 200,000 spectators.

Ahead of Wales’ friendly against Spain at the Principality Stadium, the Homeless World Cup Foundation officially announced that the 2019 tournament will take place in Cardiff.

Australia, Brazil and Denmark, Scotland are among some of the countries to have hosted the tournament.