Everyone who was in Bute Park, Cardiff for the 2019 Homeless World Cup will remember the week-long battle of the Baltic. Right up until the closing minutes of the final day, Mats Poulsen of Sweden and Kamil Tomczak of Poland were locked in competition to be Keepy-Uppy king. The challenge, set by Street Football Wales, was a huge draw for visitors to the event as the lead alternated between the two main protagonists (stat fans, after Poulsen nailed 5017 kicks just after 2pm on the last day, Tomczak pulled off the win on 5970 ten minutes before close of play).
One man who recalls that action more clearly than most is Scott Jeynes, now coach with Street Football Wales.
“I was working for Welsh charity POBL as support staff at a hostel and was manager for a team that played in the Street Football Wales league at the time Homeless World Cup was in Cardiff,” he explains, “so I volunteered to help on the stand with the Keepy-Uppy challenge. That was sheer madness, the competition between those two guys as the week went on!
“I got a real buzz from being involved in the tournament and then attended a stakeholder event where I met the Street Football Wales Trustees and all the other team managers, so when I got the opportunity of this role it was a dream job. To be helping people change their lives and be involved in football, which is my passion, and include my coaching experience – it’s next level.”
Since taking on the role eighteen months ago, Scott has overseen all the teams under the Street Football Wales umbrella. In addition to the small matter of a global pandemic, he’s had to tackle plenty other issues over that period.
“The programme had a few challenges at the time so we decided to use the enforced downtime as a bit of a rebrand. We changed our logo, got our social media platforms up to date and worked hard to win back the players’ trust as we’d been inactive for a while,” he says.
“We created links with different agencies, met the Street Soccer Scotland guys over video calls, checked in on peoples’ wellbeing and made contact with support partners on how we could help, sorting out food parcels and trying to build the network back up so that when we were able to get back on the pitch we were set to go. I needed support and help, as it was all new to me, and I’m so thankful to everyone who reached out over the last year and a half and helped me to help others.”
When activity on the pitches started again, and with it the invitation to take part in the Four Nations Challenge in Edinburgh, Scott and his Street Football Wales colleague Caitlin were ready to rock.
“The key questions were did we have enough coaches, could we call on volunteers, did we have a player pool? Then we had to adapt to all the government lockdown changes going on within Wales. For example, on a Friday night we’d get the message the Covid rules had changed in Swansea so were different to the rest of our regional lockdowns. The players then couldn’t travel between regions, even though the activity was linked to their mental health.
“But it all worked out and we restarted sessions in Cardiff and Swansea, then we expanded to Newport, and we’ve now got sessions in Merthyr plus a women’s programme in Cardiff with female coaches.”
And before you know he’s here in Scotland’s capital, standing in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, watching his two teams compete at international level in a headline tournament.
Laughing, he shakes his head in some disbelief. “It was surreal to get here, be standing on the pitch today – I think it’ll only hit me when we’re back in the office in Wales, looking through all the pictures. I’m fully responsible for all 20 players here this weekend and a lot of our participants are vulnerable adults so my whole focus is to make sure everyone is mentally in a good place.
“A couple of our women players competed in Cardiff 2019 but every single male we’ve got here, not one of them had played street football before we began training after lockdown. This Four Nations Challenge has been all about giving as many people as possible an opportunity.
“We didn’t base selection on ability, we based it on merit. We’ve got a lot of extremely talented players in Cardiff but we picked the people who we thought this event would benefit most.
“This is what Street Football Wales and Homeless World Cup is all about – that life-changing event. That turning point in someone’s life where they say ‘right, I’m going to turn it around now, be part of it, life’s bigger than me’.”
Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: Street Football Wales