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If one person illustrates the power of the Homeless World Cup, it is David Duke. The Scotsman appeared as a player in the 2004 Gothenburg tournament, and now he is running his own charity, Street Soccer Scotland.

Only two weeks ago, Duke was wearing a tuxedo on the first gala dinner of his organization, posing for a photo with Sir Alex Ferguson, Brendan Rogers and Michael O’Neill, the latter two being the current managers of Celtic and Northern Ireland respectively.

“We had some great exposure and raised 140,000 pound,” Duke told FIFPro this week at the Homeless World Cup in Oslo.

Duke is doing well now, but in 2001 things were completely different after his father passed away. “I hit the bottom, I was drinking a lot and could not deal with the emotions of losing my father. I lost my job, I lost my house. I had nowhere to go.”

For three years Duke was homeless, he was in and out of hostels and living on the streets in Glasgow. “It was risky. There was no place where I could feel safe, there was no security.”

In one of those hostels he noticed a poster inviting players to a trial for the Scottish Homeless World Cup team. Duke went. “I always enjoyed playing football when I was a child.”

Duke met Ally Dawson, a former Rangers and Scotland player, who was running the program and selected Duke for his team and changed his life. “Before I woke up and had really nothing to do. If I would do something, it would be very negative. I would always think that nothing good would ever happen to me, even when people would offer something good.”

“Now I realized I did have an opportunity. I .had to work hard, show commitment and courage and needed to change. However I had something to look forward too. Each Tuesday and Thursday I would go and train with 15 others. I also quit drinking on Monday’s and Wednesday’s because I had to play the next day. I was eating better and all in all feeling much better. That gave me a lot of confidence.”

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Brendan Rogers, Alex Ferguson, Michael O'Neill and David Duke

Duke made the team that participated in the 2004 Homeless World Cup. “Being there and representing my country in front of crowds gave me more self-confidence. With that I could move forward.”

“I met a lot of people and made new friends, but I also learned that my life was not the worst, as I had always thought. There were people in worse conditions in countries with hardly any chances. For the first time I felt lucky, because in my country there is a system of support. It made me even more dedicated to changing my life.”

After returning from Gothenburg, Duke started to train a local children’s team in Glasgow to maintain a structure in his life. “If you take away that structure, life is very difficult.”

Eventually Duke got a job as a community worker and moved into a house. “Now I was working with people who were homeless. I tried to challenge them to change their lives.”

He also was asked to be an assistant coach for the Scottish team and even became the manager of the team that won the 2007 Homeless World Cup title.

That was not enough for Duke. “I thought we could do more for homeless in Scotland. There are 35,000 registered homeless people.”

“I realized the opportunity I was given, and the role football played in my life. I thought football could play a role in their lives too.”

Duke quit his job and founded Street Soccer Scotland in 2009. He found investors and is currently running an organization with 20 staff members that offers 35 weekly sessions in the four biggest cities (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee) with around 1,000 people attending every week. Sir Alex Ferguson is the charity's ambassador, the country’s biggest bank is a sponsor, and two weeks ago he organized its first gala dinner.

In Oslo, Duke watched from the stands to see his former coach Ally Dawson leading both the men’s and the women’s team to cup glory. Both topped their division.

“Each of our players made his or her own journey, dealing with mental health issues, addictions or homelessness. They have been brave and courageous. They have had their challenges to be here. But they have all deserved to be here.”

“What inspires me is that they have captured the spirit of the tournament. They are making friends for life, exchanging experiences. For many it will be a life-changing event.”

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David Duke posing in front of the Scottish men's team in Oslo

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