Wearing nearly as many hats as Billy Gilmour has international caps; renowned Scottish crime writer Val McDermid was bossing the game at the recent Four Nations Challenge tournament in Edinburgh. Homeless World Cup Foundation Board member, lead vocalist of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers who were headlining the end-of-tournament gig, team manager of the FLC Writer’s football side and possibly espied driving the bus, too.

Fresh from supporting/instructing her players on the pitch in their ‘glamour’ fixture against a side of Scottish MSPs – football was the winner here – Val reviewed her team’s performance. 

Val with the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers and the MSP team at the Four Nations Challenge Cup

“Normally our guys only play football against other crime writers so they don’t get a regular game. Along with the rehearsing we’ve been doing for our gig the other night and for today, this is is the most exercise they’ve had since lockdown began. They were slightly nervous about the competition they were going to be facing but once they saw what they were up against, they relaxed!” 

A fervent supporter of Homeless World Cup, Val was encouraged to became involved as a Board member some two years ago by co-founder Mel Young.  

“It’s really made me check my privilege,” she admits. “I’ve been very lucky. I came from a working class background, I’ve been very successful, I’ve been lucky, and I grew up with the kind of mantra that if you’re lucky enough to have been successful you try to put something back.”  

Val has been involved, in various ways, with homeless charities since her student days when she worked with the Cyrenians charity in Oxford. “To me it’s shameful that all these years later we’ve still got a homeless challenge, so for me to be part of the Homeless World Cup Foundation Board is a way that I can maybe put a bit back in and use what I’ve got in the way of contacts and ideas to try to do something helpful. 

Offering support to her team from the sidelines at the Four Nations Challenge Cup

“So that’s a win-win. It makes me feel good and hopefully does some good for other people as well, and we get to have fun, come here and do something like this, particularly after lockdown. In many ways I think the real catastrophe of Covid is still to come and we’ll see even more people lose their homes, lose their jobs, lose their families and if, like me, you’re lucky enough to have that privilege, it feels immoral to not try and do something to help.   

“And it’s not always about throwing money at things. Sometimes it’s about building something like this where people can come together and meet people with shared experience of something like this and get a different perspective on their own life.” 

A drum roll followed by a few booming “testing-testing” from the ‘stage’ by the National Gallery reminds us of another of Val’s millinery models. 

“When I suggested this gig to the boys in the band they were totally up for it – they’re all football fans and they’re all so impressed by what’s going on here. I think if you’re a writer of fiction you inevitably have to develop your empathy and I think that helps artists and writers plug into understanding the lives of other people. So they were totally up for anything they could do to help.” 

The boys – alias Stuart Neville (guitar/vocals), Mark Billingham (guitar/vocals), Doug Johnstone (drums/vocals), Luca Veste (bass) and Chris Brookmyre (guitar/vocals) – along with Val, formed the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers going on five years ago and have clocked up many gigs, including Glastonbury, on the tour T-shirts – now joined by Homeless World Cup, Edinburgh! 

Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers in action

“We’re hoping the crowd will boogie on down, dance and sing,” she enthuses, continuing to marvel at the energy of all the participants.  

“I’ve just been talking to some of the players and the coaches – they’re just stoked to play, and to have something to compete for because that just lifts the adrenalin a bit higher. 

“It’s a great atmosphere [here today], it’s been fantastic to see people stopping, taking a look, then sticking around for a bit longer. It’s a brilliant location with people out doing their messages, out for a walk, and it’s a perfect way of exposing what the Homeless World Cup Foundation is and what it does, showing homeless people in a different light to what’s normally seen – and that’s the point. 

“We have to keep getting over to people through the Homeless World Cup Foundation that it’s not just about football. It’s what goes on around it, around the hashtag ‘more than a game’ because that’s what it’s all about – helping people change their lives.” 

Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: HWCF