The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa transmitted images of “The Beautiful Game” across the globe and seemed to give it a new meaning, as it was held on a continent where, for some, it’s all or nothing.
If you thought that was amazing, you clearly haven’t heard of the homeless world cup of soccer.
Dave Bidini’s ninth book, Home and Away: In Search of Dreams at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer, documents his travels with the Canadian team to the league’s 2008 Homeless World Cup match in Melbourne, Australia.
Fifty-six teams participated, including eight all-female teams.
Bidini, a former guitarist in the Rheostatics and a prolific author, says he first heard about the league from his editor in New York City. Shortly after, he got involved with the Canadian team when he learned that they played not far from his house.
“Once I started to get to know the people I was charmed by them,” Bidini said by phone from Toronto. “Once I understood what the program was about, I knew there would be a story there.”
The book includes stories from a number of Canadian athletes, including the team’s replacement goaltender, a Scot named David, a.k.a. Dove. Bidini described Dove as having “barbed-wire eyes” and a “rough, time-scribbled face that narrated a journey of endless hardship.”
Born poor, Dove joined the British army, only to be shipped to Belfast where he patrolled Falls Road at the heart of the Irish conflict.
There, Dove fought a young Royal Air Force pilot whom he killed. But Dove didn’t serve jail time, he was discharged from the army and returned to Glasgow where he got into the heroin trade, and tried to kill himself four times.
In recovery, Dove traveled the world telling his story at Alcoholics Anonymous conventions and the then joined the Scottish homeless soccer team.
“It was like walking into a living novel, really, in a lot of ways,” Bidini said of the tournament. “Over 600 athletes from around the world with different experiences yet, in the same way, kind of universal.
“It was so nice, I’d just come back to the hotel and feel really just fatigued in a lot of ways, in good ways, from all these tales, all these epic stories of people’s lives that I’d heard.”
Overall, Bidini says reaction to Home and Away has been very positive.
“I’m really, really happy for the players more than anything else,” he said. “Everybody’s lives seem to be coming together, so it’s pretty incredible to see it first hand.
“I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”
Published in Volume 65, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 7, 2010)