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The Beautiful Game

The Beautiful Game

By Grant Jarvie
University of Edinburgh Chair of Sport and founder of The Academy of Sport.

Invitation to the inaugural screening of the Beautiful Game Netflix Film

On the 28th of March Edinburgh hosted the Scottish launch of the new Netflix Film The Beautiful Game starring the Oscar nominated actor Bill Nighy. The actor told The BBC that the best bit about being in the film “was meeting the extras who had participated in the real tournaments and are now no longer homeless”. The film has been streaming live on Netflix since the 29th of March and was produced in partnership with Blueprint Pictures.

One of the star players in the film, Vinny, played by Top Boy actor Michael Ward experienced homelessness while growing up but gained further insights into the part he was playing from spending time with former Homeless World Cup (HWC) players. The Welsh actor Callum Scott Howells , who plays Nathan a recovering heroin addict playing for England, said “We had an amazing experience on the film working with real people who take part in the Homeless World Cup”. He went to say that “It was one of the greatest privileges of my life so far”.

The idea for HWC emerged in 2001 from The Big Issue co-founder Mel Young and Austrian journalist Harald Schmied with the first tournament taking place in 2003. The 2024 Homeless World Cup is scheduled to be held in South Korea.

The goal of the Homeless World Cup Foundation, a charity based in Edinburgh, is a world without homelessness. Its Scottish partners are Street Soccer Scotland. Global homeless statistics remain a challenge but in 2021 The Global Economic Forum reported a figure of 150 million homeless people worldwide. The aim of the annual football event is to transform lives, opportunities and change perceptions towards homelessness.

To date it has impacted upon the lives of 1.2 million people through a network of more than 70 grassroots organizations in more than 70 countries. The Cities Ending Homelessness Report supported by HWC notes that along with interventions around housing, mental health and employment HWC football is helping to change the narrative from managing the homeless problem to ending homelessness.

HWC impact data reports that 94% of players say the HWC has had a positive impact on their lives, 83% improved their relationship with families and friends and 77% say that HWC has changed their lives significantly and 76% continue to enjoy and play the sport. Listen to players voices captured in the Edinburgh University research:

“It helped me mentally because I was starting to get depressed but the football and goal of HWC helped me feel more positive”.
“I want to feel like I have control in an aspect of my lifer again… At the moment soccer gives me this”.
“Football taught me that the unbelievable was achievable …I’m building a life for myself now”.
“To me it (HWC) it was a symbol of hope, determination, strength, and courage. It was the first time in my life I was proud to say I was an addict in recovery”.

Produced by HWC ambassador (and Oscar Nominee) Colin Farrell and Blueprint Pictures’ Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Ben Knight with Anita Overland, The Beautiful Game tells the story of the English team and their coach Mal (played by Nighy) as they prepare for the global tournament to be played in Rome. At the last-minute Mal decides to bring with them a talented striker Vinny (Michael Ward), who could give them a chance at winning, but only if he’s ready to let go of his past and become part of the team.

Made with the support of the Homeless World Cup and directed by Thea Sharrock from a script by Frank Bryce, The Beautiful Game is a film of second chances — where homeless teams from around the world find that all roads lead to Rome, and everything’s to play for.

The launch in Edinburgh to a packed audience in the Everyman Cinema, attended by the author, heard from Mel Young about the background to the film, the Homeless World Cup along with a clarion call to end homelessness. The Netflix film is the most recent intervention fronted by this social entrepreneur. The film itself presents a narrative that captures the spirit, commitment and in part the remarkable story of HWC.

It is a reminder that interventions that start small can make a big difference, that people can make a difference, that nobody lacks ability but that opportunity is socially and geographically spread unevenly and that homelessness can arrive at the doorstep as a result of many unintended paths and situations.

It is also a reminder of the scale reach and capability of the football tool to make a difference through football where football as a resource and an enabler can help produce non-sporting outcomes. Something that this Netflix film captures.


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