The Homeless World Cup Feeds Your Soul

Angela Draws—AKA ‘Madonna’, as she was nicknamed by cheering Chilean supporters when she was a player at the 2014 Homeless World Cup tournament in Santiago—has gone from wearing shirt number 4 to 40 as she celebrates her 40th birthday returning to the event. Rocking a ‘Radiate love—I am a spiritual gangster’ t-shirt she talked about turning 40 and her life before, during and after her 2014 Homeless World Cup experience.

“For me, drugs are linked to the party. I think that was the attraction for a lot of people, when you just want to get weird with someone, you want to go have fun and talk under the stars, you want to go dance and let your hair down because you know life is hard enough. I love opening my heart to somebody, and when you are doing drugs everything is melted away, you have no inhibitions. I never understood that there was a deeper way to connect with people.

“I had been pretty lost for a good four years, and was lucky enough to end up in space where the state decided that I needed some assistance. The ‘darkness’ is when your body is chemically dependent, isolated from family and friends. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have a home, nothing to keep me grounded—all because of drugs.

“In 2012, I found myself in an all-women recovery home. It was a state service. You kinda had to make your plea, they wouldn’t just let anyone in, they wanted to make sure that you were ready to get sober. I was actually on a waiting list, so I was properly white knuckling it until I finally got the go. They made it very clear that these were really expensive seats to be in, that out of the 21 women sitting at the table only two would stay sober.

“The day I went in I remember feeling at home. You had to respect one another, stick to the house rules and you had to get a sponsor.”

A sponsor is someone who supports a person on their rehabilitation journey, taking them through the 12 steps of recovery.

“12 steps is basically a solution to change your life—it is where the magic happens. For example, one step is writing an inventory of everyone who you have ever known and basically everyone who has ever wronged you, or who you have wronged. You can do what you want with this, you can burn it but what it does is it cleanses your insides.

“That is what street soccer has done for me, what Lisa has done for me, the recovery home and the AA has done for me.”

Lisa Wrightsman is the USA’s current street soccer women coach, travel buddy, family and sponsor.

“I was just floored that there was this person who would spend her gas money, her time to come and meet with me, and pick me up and take me for coffee, and listen to my stories and share stuff with me. I was just floored that someone would do that.

“‘What will you do to become sober?’ she asked. The answer was: I will do whatever it takes.

“On that day she showed me a video of Eliana Giselle, a former player, playing in the middle of Times Square. [Giselle] distracts the goalie, she does a cartwheel in the middle of Times Square, boom, scores a goal, wins the game and the crowd goes nuts. [Lisa] showed me that. I put the idea in my pocket.

“The first weekend that I came out of rehab, Lisa picked me up and we went to practice. We all met in a parking lot with some makeshift goals. I hadn’t had a good experience of women—my exposure to women in the last years of my addiction wasn’t too good—and these women looked intimidating.

“When you have an addiction you have only one agenda: Where is the party, when are we going to get high? But this was a community, a beautiful network of women, and I hadn’t had that so much: what it is like to have healthy women in your life!’

Draws had been playing street soccer for two years when she got chosen to play at the Homeless World Cup in Chile.

“Playing the seven-minute halves I was gassed and wounded—not conditioned whatsoever. But I started going to the gym and I started feeling the physical but also the mental and spiritual benefits. The number one thing that doctors want to prescribe to you is meds. I was on a low dose of anti-depressants before. I have been off them ever since.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to be a pro footballer, but I knew sport was going to be part of my life and I knew that I had so much to share from my experience. I am really grateful the career path that I have chosen, being a fitness professional, is one of the most magical choices I have made. The most rewarding thing is that people leave with a smile. And that is an addiction for me.

“I wish there was more funding for people who want to change their life. I think the community gets deterred from people thinking: Is this person going to continue and want to stay sober? What are we investing in here? This is one of the issues, they are scared that they are going to invest in someone and fail.”

Draws finds my next question tricky. Struggling to find the words she tries to explain why it is important for her to be present at the Homeless World Cup year on year.

“I need the inspiration. It is one thing to inspire people, but it is another to be around people who inspire and motivate you. It isn’t about the vacation. It is about staying connected to something that changed the whole trajectory of my life. I have mended a lot of things, and I have built wonderful relationships, learnt to create boundaries and eliminate toxic people from my life, and make friends that are family. The Homeless World Cup feeds your soul.’

Pictures: Romain Kedochim & Alex Walker