Four coaching sessions separated the Slovenia players from being chosen to represent their nation at this year’s Homeless World Cup and setting foot on the park for the first time wearing their country’s jersey.
But that hasn’t stopped 42-year-old Robert Andrejaš and 39-year-old Primož Klarer from enjoying every minute of their time in Mexico City so far.
“The fact is that nobody actually really plays football except for one of our teammates, Bojan. He played when he was younger. But if you ask me, we are five guys who didn’t play soccer before,” says Robert.
Both Robert and Primož are from the town of Trbovlje and have known each other for a number of years, although it wasn’t until very recently that they met their teammates for the first time.
Even so, the bond between them is evident to see as they come into contact with players from other nations.
“We are a social group. I think that we are all happy. The football team has kept us together. We’ve met a lot of people here. That’s the main purpose. It’s not about winning. It’s that we are here and we are meeting other people,” says Primož.
“So far we’ve met people from Croatia, from Bosnia, Ireland, Northern Ireland, France and Norway,” adds Robert.
JZ Socio is the organisation responsible for bringing Team Slovenia to the Homeless World Cup, having established a street football league in 2012 and developing public awareness campaigns about inclusion for marginalised groups in the country.
Both players have benefited greatly from the organisation’s work, and Robert has even gone as far as to recommend others to become part of JZ Socio’s programme.
“I had problems and was really pleased to join up with the programme. So much so now I’ve even got two other candidates for next year’s tournament.
“They have helped us a lot, whether we had problems with our jobs or with social security. It’s not just football.”
Robert and Primož come from an area of real poverty in Slovenia and, like the other players representing their respective countries, they see the tournament as a chance for people from similar situations to come together.
“The tournament is a great idea, in bringing together people who lack choices in life. It allows them to meet each other, have a nice time and play soccer. Being here makes you feel better,” says Robert.
Primož adds: “From being here what I will take away most is meeting other people and making some new friends. When we go home we will tell our friends how we played Brazil and others and we scored a goal.”
That goal came from someone who wasn’t expecting to get on the score sheet.
“I’m proud. I scored the first goal today, you know! And I’m the goalkeeper!” says Primož, laughing.
And while Robert has found regular work in a cultural club thanks to Slovenia’s street soccer programme, Primož is hopeful he too can find work on his return home.
“At the moment I am taking part in some programmes with the organisation, and I hope I will get a job when I get back with their help.”
Words: Craig Williams
Images: Daniel Lipinski