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Common goal

October 01 2023
The winning Bangladesh team at the Inner London Football League World Cup © Emdad Rahman The winning Bangladesh team at the Inner London Football League World Cup © Emdad Rahman

A report on a community football tournament, leading our writer to think about the connection between the grassroots game and kind acts. By Emdad Rahman

Football can have a transformative power in combatting homelessness. The world's most popular sport possesses a unique ability to bring people together and create positive change. It is a powerful tool in addressing one of society's most pressing issues and through various initiatives is making a difference in the lives of homeless people, offering them hope, empowerment and a path to societal reintegration.

I was recently invited to compete in the Inner London Football League World Cup, where I was honoured to take charge of Bangladesh. The third edition of the grassroots tournament saw us crowned World Cup winners for the second time.

The players who made up the squad are rather special and steeped in the ways of selfless community service. Apart from being outstanding footballers they have spent the best part of their lives helping those in need.
Football and kind acts go hand in hand and when fused together the results are inspirational.

I selected players for the World Cup purely based on footballing ability, but as the squad came together, I couldn’t help but notice the number of grassroots activists within the squad.

Supporting homeless people was a vibrant thread stitched colourfully within the fabric of our squad. Our players were involved in several grassroots projects including two foodbanks, two street kitchens, street outreach for rough sleepers, medical advocacy, water distribution, Ramadan Iftar meal sharing to coincide with Muslims breaking fast and also two winter projects.

These are individuals who spent the fasting days during the Islamic month of Ramadan sharing food, water, snacks and sweet treats with homeless people and those who are experiencing hard times.

There are numerous football groups doing great work in the east London community.

Docklands Football Club started a charity initiative where players washed cars and repaired bicycles, with donations going to the benefit of rough sleepers and a local community organisation offering overnight shelter during the harsh winter months. Assistant manager Abdul Aziz owns the HFC restaurant opposite the East London Mosque, regularly providing the Kind Counter street kitchen with hot meals.

Working with Anwar Uddin from the FA, Howard Gould and now Robbie Minchin from Leyton Orient FC, the club has used the matchday experience at its Brisbane Road home to host homeless friends in the club’s community hub. The experience includes, lunch, tea and snacks, a team scarf and match programme.

The Inner London Football League has a motto: “Unity in the community,” and chairman Rashid Ali has joined executive members Abdul Hussain and Nanu Miah to provide and share hot food and drinks during the winter.

Football has become a catalyst for creating inclusive communities where homeless people feel a sense of belonging. There are organised tournaments and leagues for homeless individuals. These events provide opportunities for social interaction, skill-building and personal growth.

By participating in football programmes, homeless individuals are not only able to improve their physical health, but also develop crucial life skills such as teamwork, discipline and self-confidence. These events challenge societal stereotypes surrounding homelessness, fostering empathy and understanding among spectators.

Football acts as a universal language, allowing people from diverse backgrounds to connect and work towards a common goal. This collective effort promotes a sense of social responsibility, encouraging individuals, communities and policymakers to take action and address homelessness at its core. Together we can make significant strides in addressing homelessness and building a more compassionate society.

Back at the Inner London Football League World Cup, Bangladesh beat a fabulous Nigeria side 6-2 in the final and broke scoring records throughout, playing with the strength of lions and the poise of deadly striking cobras.
If anyone deserved to win it was these boys. This special victory is dedicated to all those who, for various reasons, find themselves homeless.