Around 3,500 people are expected in George Square today for the opening ceremony of the Homeless World Cup, now in its 14th year. This tournament began to become established just as professional football in Europe loosened itself from the last cords ...
In the heart of Glasgow today the real values of football are coming home. On the day that Paris brings the curtain down on Euro 2016 with a game featuring 22 multimillionaires, Glasgow will raise one with a kick-about between two teams of homeless people. Around 3,500 people are expected in George Square today for the opening ceremony of the Homeless World Cup, now in its 14th year.
This tournament began to become established just as professional football in Europe loosened itself from the last cords that once bound it to real life. Those of us who love football long ago accepted that big money and corporate interests are an inevitable part of the most popular game in the world. But as long as an element of competition remained, we thought, then at least part of footballâ€™s soul could be retained.
Yet even that ideal of honest competition, once considered sacrosanct, has been abandoned in the face of the financial gerrymandering of the Uefa Champions League. This works in favour of the wealthier footballing nations. Clubs from smaller nations are less likely to benefit from the huge amounts of money that pour into this competition.
Thus, the teams that could really do with the cash that entry into the initial group stages would bring are denied it while those clubs which have become the playthings of international billionaires get to vacuum everything up. The Champions League is the wet dream of every Tory who has ever lived. It is the purest and most wretched form of capitalism in that it rewards brute economic strength and discriminates against financial or geographic weakness.
Euro 2016 has given us a glimpse of what can be achieved when cash and earning power are not the prime factors in determining which teams will succeed. Long after either Portugal or France are crowned champions tonight these games will be remembered principally for the exploits of Iceland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all of whose domestic club champions are denied an equal right to compete with the best in the Champions League. Other than them, the billions of pounds that have been spent bringing Euro 2016 to France these last four weeks have been unable to raise the spectacle above the banal and insipid.
France are in the final despite being outplayed by Germany on Thursday, while God only knows how Portugal have prevailed. They have within their ranks Cristiano Ronaldo, a wonderful footballer but one who plays only for the glory of himself. Ronaldo is the antithesis of everything that made Wales, Iceland and Northern Ireland.
Being Scottish of course we have long given up any hope of ever qualifying for a major football tournament again. We havenâ€™t been near one for 18 years. We are a backward football nation playing battery-cage football. The only way we will ever get to qualify for a competition like this in the near future is if the football authorities grant us a testimonial entry for long service.
So thank God for the Homeless World Cup. I used to fret about Hampden Park, our national stadium, no longer being fit for the purposes of hosting a major European club football event. We last hosted the European Cup final in 2002, but will never do so again after the Scottish Football Associationâ€™s pathetic attempt at rebuilding the stadium that has left the nation with a world-class executive suite and a third-class playing facility.
Now, though, I am glad that we wonâ€™t be wasting time, resources and public money bidding for these increasingly meaningless baubles. In recent decades, the hosting of a major sporting extravaganza has become the favourite way of governments and dictatorships to occupy the masses while they are being slowly roasted in all other aspects of their lives.
In the last few weeks, it has been depressing to learn that two of footballâ€™s greatest teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid are being investigated over accusations of state aid on the grand scale. Lionel Messi, the greatest footballer on the planet â€“ and one of the richest â€“ has received a suspended jail sentence for tax evasion.
As the Homeless World Cup gets underway in Glasgow today, it should be remembered that almost 5,000 Glasgow families were assessed last year as homeless, according to Shelter Scotland. Around 1,800 families, including 1,126 children, were living in temporary accommodation. And although these figures show an improvement from a few years ago, there were distressing signs of an increase in people sleeping rough by other homeless charities earlier this year.
Glasgow City Mission reported being full on 32 nights in 2015-16, while an average of 33 people used the shelter on any single night, compared to just 17 the previous winter. In Edinburgh, the Bethany Christian Trust saw demand for beds rise by 131% in the three years since 2013, with an average of 48 people taking refuge on any night during winter 2015-16.
More than 50% of occupied properties in the Glasgow local authority area at the start of last year were deemed to have failed the Scottish housing quality standard. Basically then, many families that are no longer considered homeless instead find themselves at the mercy of slum landlords, whose widespread existence successive Labour administrations in this city have failed to curtail.
It was from men and women such as these that many football teams first received their support and moral sustenance. In these clubs was invested the pride and dignity of working men and women who were denied both of these considerations in their workplaces or at the hands of the state.
The links between football and poverty and its original working-class roots remain strong, even though many clubs behave as though they wished they were not.
So today in Glasgow and for the next week letâ€™s celebrate footballâ€™s real values with the 64 teams competing in the Homeless World Cup. And letâ€™s not forget that, for many, in the century and a half since football was invented, housing inequality is still a reality.
Homeless World Cup Glasgow, Sunday, 10 July â€“ Saturday, 16 July in George Square; tickets not required.
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