Thursday, July 28, 2011

Homelessness and Soccer/Football - A Book Review



by Dave Bidini

Greystone Books, 2010

174 pages

Dave Bidini, a musician (the Rheostatics) and author of a number of popular books on hockey takes on the issue of homelessness as it presents itself at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer in his latest book.

Bidini is invited to cover the 2009 event in Australia and, even though he hasn’t heard of it, accepts.

Dreamed up by Mel Young, a Scotsman, and Harald Schmied, an Austrian, while attending a conference dealing with the future of street newspapers in Austria in 2003, it is a different game than the one we know. Played four players a side on 16 metre x 22 metre court, the game lasts 14 minutes (two seven minute halves.) A three-on-two rule intended to promote scoring has evolved so that only two players are allowed in their own defensive end.

The Australian event featured about 600 players from 54 nations and would have been even larger except individuals from some countries were refused entry because of criminal records - just one barrier that organizers have to cope with in organizing the World Cup.

A Canadian team that included 18 year old “runaway” Krystal Bell and 45 year old Billy Pagonis is Bidini’s focus. Billy is a former soccer pro once played for Canada’s national team.

In addition to these two the author weaves in stories of players from around the world and their unique encounters with homelessness. In India, for example, the development of the sport, called slum soccer, is inhibited by regional divides and the caste system. While the Cambodia squad, made up of three players who were born and still lived in the dumps of Phnom Penh, had to cope with interference from government officials who wanted players selected to the team in return for favours from well-to-do citizens.

What’s great about this thoughtful book is the author’s ability to challenge our stereotypes of homelessness. Yes, there are those suffering “the ravages of addiction” and needing anger management courses.

But there are also “21st century homeless figures” like Canadian player Jerry, a seat cushion salesman “(m)entally sound, with no addiction issues, but he’d been thrown to the mat after making the wrong choices in a capitalist society that encourages risk.”

Beating homelessness through Football is the mantra of this year’s tournament which runs from August 21 - 28th in Paris. (

originally published at