Young at the Heart of Everything

While the last two years have been a logistical challenge for everyone, spare a thought for the man at the heart of Homeless World Cup who has had over 70 times the rules and regulations to navigate in an ever-changing sea of Covid restrictions.  

With a network of 70 Partners around the world, representing that number of nations, – President and co-founder Mel Young – was one delighted and relieved man to be standing at the Mound in Edinburgh, watching his beloved beautiful game take to the pitch again after its enforced absence.

“It’s just fantastic, really fantastic” he beams, surveying the players, coaches, Homeless World Cup Foundation (HWCF) staff, volunteers and spectators thronging the space transformed into an arena for the Four Nations Challenge Cup, which was held in September this year. 

“It’s been very difficult for us having to cancel the last two years’ Homeless World Cup tournaments,” he said when speaking to me from the tournament. “We hope to have our event on next year – we’re talking to some cities – but it’s still very difficult to plan and everyone understands that. 

“However, we wanted to do something and we were able to get this event on in Edinburgh for the four home countries which was fantastic. It’s a much smaller version than the Homeless World Cup but the players are really happy to be here and have something to aim for. Everybody’s getting into it and getting behind it so it’s turned out to be a really great event.”

Mel Young awards Northern Ireland the trophy as winners of the men’s tournament. Credit: Edinburgh Photographic

Even with just Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England parking their kits pitch-side, however, the logistics have not been without their headaches. Mel oversaw as HWCF Events Manager, Jennifer Leak navigated continuously changing Covid regulations. 

“It was quite complicated to put on this event,” he admits, “because although we’re standing here today with the Covid rules relaxed and you would think it’d be quite easy to do, actually during planning Jennifer devised all sorts of different ways we might have to run the event as every country’s Covid rules kept changing.

“We have four different countries and four different sets of rules, but everyone’s worked really hard to bring this together, including an enormous amount of effort from the HWCF team. What’s been great is that, yes, there have been some obstacles in the way but we’ve sat down with everyone, with the City of Edinburgh Council, to see how can we get round this. We’ve worked out solutions and here we are. So many people have been determined to put this on – it’s thanks to all those bodies who have stepped up and done their bit.” 

Looking beyond the Four Nations, Mel has also had to contend with the small matter of funding the ongoing global work of the Homeless World Cup Foundation. 

“Our finance comes from international sponsors and then we have no event – for two years,” he states. “We were lucky, this time, that we had good reserves and so we were able to survive due to these funds.” 

“Once we understood how long this pandemic was going on for, we started doing some online activity, exchanging ideas and training, between the partners, trying to support all of our partners round the world who were in different levels of lockdown and working together as a network.

Mel Young and the Lord Provost, Frank Ross, open the Four Nations Challenge Cup in Edinburgh. Credit: Edinburgh Photographic

“That was fantastic, in as far as it went. Obviously, the issue of homelessness is going to get worse due to this Covid situation and, at the same time, our resources have been collectively lessened so it’s been a double hit for everybody,” he cautions.  

Nothing – far less a global pandemic – will stand in the way of the vision which Mel and the Homeless World Cup Foundation continue to hold dear. 

“We are, collectively, very determined and resilient, and the vision for us is to end homelessness. We’re strong together around the world, we’ve built relationships and trust each other and have that vision and that determination because we know the impact we’ve made.  

“We know so many players have changed their lives as a result of Homeless World Cup – that’s what drives us.  

 “So, in adversity – and it’s been very difficult at times – we’ve managed to hold it together. Now we’re emerging out of the situation and we’ll keep doing what we were doing before. So for us, the pandemic has been a bit of a diversion off the path, we’ve steered back on to the road and on we go.”

Mel Young takes to the stage to introduce Val McDermid and the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. Credit: Edinburgh Photographic

His attention temporarily diverted by a group of players approaching to elbow-pump and tell him how mad-in-a-good-way the weekend has turned out, Mel returns to our chat looking bashfully delighted. Typically, he also highlights the positives in what has been this universally bleak time.

“I think the pandemic has been a bit of a contradiction,” he says. “It has been difficult and there are a lot of negatives but actually, what we’ve found, is that people come together. There’s a real strength of community, people supporting one another. We’ve always had that in our network anyway but during the pandemic it was strengthened even more.  

“People are asking ‘what can I do’ and we’re explaining ‘this is the way we do it, this is how you might raise some funds, this works’, sharing all of that knowledge. So there’s been real community spirit across the world with our organisation, with people just being up for it and very supportive.  

“Oddly, we’re probably going to emerge into a stronger position. It seems a bit of a contradiction but I reckon that’s what’s going to happen. You can sense that feeling here – and this is just four countries and look what’s happening. We’ve been in touch with many of the partners and everyone has the same kind of buzz. It’s been difficult but, hey, we’re going for it!”

Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: Edinburgh Photographic