There is a great atmosphere at the Graz 2018 European Street Football Festival. The Austrian women’s squad is sitting at the stands watching the match between England and Initiative Goal -the second Austrian squad in the men’s competition. The players are cheering loudly for their countrymen, and chants of “Österreich! Österreich!” echo across the city centre. Among them sits Beatrice Thirkettle wearing the team’s strip, and giving advice to the player next to her whose attention seems to shift between Beatrice and the pitch right in front of her.
This is not the first time Beatrice has been spotted at one of the street football events in Austria, she has been a devoted volunteer with Initiative Goal and Homeless World Cup Austria over the last two years. “It all started before the Homeless World Cup in Glasgow,” says Beatrice. “I heard that the event was going to be there and I just had to be a part of it. I had volunteered at the blind football world cup and after I heard about the Homeless World Cup, I knew I had to see it.”
Beatrice applied to be a volunteer at the Glasgow 2016 Homeless World Cup. “I applied for the role of Team Guide, which means you help the teams navigate the city. I wanted to do a German speaking country, because I wanted to understand how they worked and the way the approach homelessness and other issues.” Beatrice also happens to be fluent in German. She was assigned the Austrian squad – organised by Initiative Goal – and soon became enchanted by the programme and its players. The squad also found a good friend in Beatrice. “I stayed in touch with the team after the Glasgow event,” adds Beatrice. “I went to visit them in Austria and volunteered at one of their national competitions. I have also helped them with some translations.”
Over the course of two years, Beatrice has gotten to know the team that played in Glasgow. “It has been amazing to see how much they have changed. To see them coming out of their shell and growing in confidence. It is very fulfilling.” Beatrice has been adopted by the Austrian team, and she also assisted them during the Oslo 2017 Homeless World Cup. “You just can’t tear yourself away from it. Once you see the atmosphere and the positive impact these programmes have on their participants, you have to be a part of it.”
Beatrice has become a familiar face to players and staff at Initiative Goal, and has developed a relationship with them which she hopes will last a life time. “I could see myself doing this throughout my life. Everything I learn from my time with Initiative Goal and the Homeless World Cup, I incorporate in my own work.” Beatrice works in England, also developing programmes for sport for development. “ I thinks is important more and more people get involved in these types of projects. To see how people develop their skills and confidence through football, really is fulfilling.”
Beatrice will also be volunteering at the 2018 Homeless World Cup in Mexico City, which should come as no surprise to all of us who know her dedication.