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Richard did what he felt he should do: helping someone in need of an extra hand.

Back to September 2015. Richard was on the pitch as Northern Ireland played Indonesia in the final stages of the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam when he tried to take the ball from an onrushing opponent.

“The player was running past me”, Richard remembers. “Instinctively I stuck out my leg to get the ball, but I caught him. He went up against the barrier and fell to the floor.”

The referee did not blow his whistle, yet Richard refused to get the ball and go for goal. He looked after his hurt opponent. “Naturally, I held my hand out to help him up and to make sure that play was stopped. I didn’t want to take advantage of it.”

His teammates and coaches thought differently and gave him some stick, but after the match Richard got support from the referee. “He told me that my teammates and coaches were wrong and I was right.”

Richard was rewarded for his sportsmanship with the FIFPro Fair Play Award, receiving the award moments before the tournament’s final kicked-off in front of packed stands.

“Winning the award was really a recognition for something we should see more in the world: us looking out for each other and helping people when they are down.”

“Too often it is considered old fashioned or out of date, but I feel that it is something everyone should do.”

“I always play hard but fair. I never want to injure an opponent. I just want to play at my best. The fact that the Homeless World Cup and FIFPro placed importance on this, was for me a highlight and a very proud moment.”

New phase in life

For Richard, the moment is an integral part of a new phase in his life. He had had his share of difficulties when he joined Street Soccer Northern Ireland months earlier. Initially he only went there to play football. The organisation’s manager noticed that Richard showed up consistently and asked him to join the team. It was another step towards a more disciplined life. Street Soccer gave him the opportunity to earn his coaching badges, and selected him for the Homeless World Cup.

“Being part of the World Cup gave me mixed feelings. It was fantastic to play there and represent Northern Ireland, to be an ambassador when meeting other countries. The people were full of life and excitement, it was a pleasure to meet them. I still keep in touch with a number of them.”

“But on a personal level I felt the stigma of the word ‘homeless’ weigh over me.”

Richard refers to the fact that not all participants were homeless. Due to various struggles they turned to local Homeless World Cup partners, such as Street Soccer Northern Ireland.

“I had made dramatic changes to my life, some of which did not work out, but I have never considered myself homeless. The common view of homeless people is a stereotypical person on the streets. I felt that it is a very negative and derogatory way of describing people. I don’t identify with this view.”

Do the right thing

However, Richard fully endorses the tournament and it’s Fair Play Award. “I think that the nature of the award shows the standards and values that the Homeless World Cup and FIFPro wish to promote. It adds a more human element to the event, because this awards does not celebrate the winners, but the players who do the right thing.”

“The award really taught me that I should stand up for what I believe in even though others do not agree”, Richard explained. “It reminded me of the values that I have but can forget about when life gets complicated. When you live up to that standard, then things start happening: you are living life the right way.”

Ten months have passed since the 2015 Homeless World Cup. Richard is doing well and has moved from a temporary residence to a shared house. He started studying Engineering at a college. “My focus is on getting into the welding sector, underwater welding in particular. I aim to finish my regular welding in just over a year, and my underwater qualification in three years.”

 

Note: Richard preferred not to give his full name and details