“It just gets you right in the heart”

They watched Cristiano Ronaldo score in the Champions League final in Cardiff, but volunteers Steve White and David Swarts insist their experiences of the Homeless World Cup top it all.

White said: “There’s no comparison. It might sound strange to say, but the Homeless World Cup is head and shoulders above the Champions League. The Champions League final was a job, but this has become a love. It just gets you right in the heart and I’m so sad it’s almost over.

“We’re both football fans, so to see the game giving back to the community is just amazing. Football gets such a bad press, but this is changing lives and brings a tear to the eye, literally. I’ve cried at games this week, and I don’t even have any affiliation with the teams. It’s what football should be about.

“I genuinely think I’ve had the most rewarding conversations I’ve ever had in my life this week. When players are telling you they are so many years clean, then showing you photos of their wives and families they’ve built for themselves, it makes it so worthwhile just doing our tiny bit.”

Swartz too, has been bitten by the bug, but there was a deeper reason for him getting involved.

He explained: “For me, on a personal level, I’ve probably had a hell of a lot more chances than any player out there and, in different circumstances, probably could’ve found myself on the streets.

“I’ve got a serious gambling addiction, and I’ve tried to tackle it a bit, but it’s still there. This is going to give me the motivation to stop. It has ruined my life enough. 

“Addiction is weird, because if you haven’t got it, you can’t understand. It’s like you’ve got the devil and the angel on each shoulder: one’s telling you one thing, but all too often the devil. So I’ve told myself the next time the devil knocks on the door, I’m going to grab my phone. Then, I’ll look at all the photos I’ve taken with people I’ve met at this tournament throughout this week and tell myself to be strong.

“I’m lucky, because I’ve got a family who’ve helped me at times. It’s just scary to realise that in different circumstances, this could be me. 

Swartz, 46, added: “I met a former Cardiff City player, got a photo with him, and just spoke to him about what he was doing. He retired at 29, and someone told him to become a counsellor and he now offers that for professional footballers. He said that 75–80% of professional players have been to his door, and the associations just won’t accept [gambling is] an issue because of the sponsorship they get.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re the working class bloke who bets £20, which is too much for his budget, or a Premier League player on £60,000 a week. Bookmakers don’t give a f&%k who you are—you’re a faceless bank card of cash—and if you’ve got £60,000, they’ll take it.”

White and Swartz kicked off their volunteering journey at the Champions League showpiece final when it was staged at the Millennium Stadium back in 2017, but it’s fair to say the 2019 Homeless World Cup has stolen their hearts. They’ll definitely be following its progress in future and, who knows, might continue their volunteering journey with it in 2020 and beyond.

Words and image: David Brockett