Former players refereeing this year’s tournament

With over 500 players from more than 50 countries at this year’s Homeless World Cup in Oslo, the need for referees is greater than ever.

Now three new referees have joined the team this year, having formerly been Homeless World Cup players.

Welsh duo Craig Denner and Natalie Handley, alongside Bulgaria’s Stefan Slatev, are the latest recruits to head referee Iain McGill’s team.

(Left to right: Craig Denner, Natalie Handley, Stefan Slatev)

Speaking before kick off on Day 5 of the 2017 event, Natalie said: “Back three years ago I was a player in Chile, and then I became the assistant coach to the Welsh squad in both Amsterdam and Glasgow. I attended a referee course in December in Newport, and that’s when I was selected to referee here in Oslo.

“The whole tournament has helped me massively, particularly mentally. It’s a way I can totally escape any problems I might have for 14 minutes when I’m on the pitch. They all go to the back of your mind when you’ve got the whistle in your hand — it’s incredible how much a game of football can change someone’s life.

“From here, hopefully I do well enough and get called back for next year’s Homeless World Cup, but hopefully we’ll get the tournament back to Wales. I think having it back in our own country would just be brilliant.”

Fellow countryman Craig Denner represented the Dragons in the Dutch capital and admits the tournament has changed his life.

He said: “Before the Homeless World Cup, I was a bit of a mess through drugs and alcohol. I got called up to train with the Welsh squad for Amsterdam and I just fell back in love with football.

“I stopped the drugs, stopped the alcohol and played over in Amsterdam, which was both amazing and totally eye-opening.

“A year later I was asked to coach, so we took the team to Glasgow and then Paul came over to do the referees course. I really enjoyed it — even though I didn’t think I would. And I got asked to come up here and referee, and it means the world to me.”

Eighteen-year-old Stefan was chosen following a referee course delivered in Sofia, Bulgaria and said: “I’m feeling very happy, but it has been a long five months of hard training. I hope to progress as a referee, getting experience and ultimately going higher.”

Iain added: “We’re very excited, and we’re obviously a little bit biased, but we think a referee is a great thing to be.

“It brings so many life skills because there are so many challenges in becoming and being a referee. It’s also a great career with great opportunities also, so it’s one of the things we’re looking to offer and implement.

“We want to make sure there is a progression after they compete in the Homeless World Cup as a player. Some people want to coach, some want to play and others want to referee, but ultimately we just want to keep them involved in football.”

Words: David Brockett
Images: Romain Kedochim