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From homeless to head coach: Former Welsh player on 'life-changing' Homeless World Cup

Wayne Ellaway says he is a different person since being involved with the Homeless World Cup. Photo: Paul Roberts

As Cardiff prepares to host the 2019 Homeless World Cup, one former Welsh player has told ITV Wales how the tournament has helped him turn his fortunes around.

Wayne Ellaway, 44, had almost given up on life after finding himself in a destructive cycle of prison sentences and substance misuse.

He was living on the streets of Cardiff when he was selected to play for Wales in the 2015 Homeless World Cup, which took place that year in Amsterdam.

Although not the sole cause of Wayne's remarkable turnaround, he says the sport played a huge part in his recovery. Wayne is now coaching this year's Welsh men's team, the Dragons, in addition to his job as a sales and outreach worker at Big Issue Cymru.

Wayne shares some of his story here:

You can see more of Wayne's story on Wales This Week: Tackling Homelessness, Monday at 8:00pm on ITV Wales - or catch up by visiting the ITV Wales programmes page.

The Homeless World Cup aims to inspire people to change their own lives through the power of football and to alter public perceptions of homelessness.

The week-long event runs from July 27th to August 3rd and will involve over 500 players from more than 50 countries.

The Welsh international teams - the Dragons and the Warriors - are selected through the charity Street Football Wales. Its founder, Keri Harris, has been involved since the inaugural tournament in 2003. He now runs four leagues with 40+ teams around Wales for people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion.

The Welsh players are put through their paces ahead of the tournament. Credit: Paul Roberts

Street Football Wales has had a huge impact on our players over the past 16 years and we estimate to have worked with over 8,000 players in that time, with our biggest impacts being on physical and mental health, confidence and self-esteem, a reduction in substance misuse and people feeling less isolated.

Perhaps the most important thing that Street Football Wales provides is the opportunity to be involved in something where they will not be judged or stigmatised, creating self-belief and a feeling of belonging - a community.

– Keri Harris, Street Football Wales
Keri Harris founded Street Football Wales 16 years ago and has worked with thousands of players. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The bid for Cardiff to host this year's tournament was led by Welsh actor and activist Michael Sheen, who is taking a hands-on role in the organisation of the event.

To help bring the Homeless World Cup to Wales this summer is a real dream come true for me. All round the world, I’ve seen how football can play a massive part in helping people transform their lives, bring some joy and hope when things seem at their worst or just help to get you through a day.

– Michael Sheen
Welsh actor and activist Michael Sheen was behind the bid to bring the Homeless World Cup to Cardiff. Credit: Homeless World Cup

Cymorth Cymru, the umbrella body for Wales’ homelessness sector, is working alongside Michael to ensure the event leaves a lasting legacy.

We’re really pleased to be working with Michael to ensure that the Homeless World Cup has a lasting impact on people’s lives. This tournament creates incredible opportunities for the players, but it also provides a platform for government, businesses and communities to really step up and play their part in ending homelessness.

– Katie Dalton, Cymorth Cymru
Cymorth Cymru director Katie Dalton says it's important that the event leaves a lasting legacy to help end homelessness. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Mel Young, co-founder of the Homeless World Cup Foundation said: “We are truly excited to bring the Homeless World Cup to Cardiff. We were very impressed by the bid and their commitment to delivering a long-lasting legacy across Wales. Every year we travel to a different nation to deliver this wonderful event, and we are sure that Cardiff 2019 will be inspiring and life-changing for the players and the public attending.”

The event will be delivered by the Homeless World Cup Foundation in co-ordination with Cardiff City Council, Cardiff University, Cardiff City FC Foundation, FA Wales, FAW Trust, Sport Wales, Pobl Group, Office of Michael Sheen, Working Word, PYST, Bevan Foundation, Community Foundation in Wales and Street Football Wales.

The 17th edition of the Homeless World Cup will take place in Cardiff’s Bute Park from July 27 – August 3. For more information, visit the Homeless World Cup website.