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The Beautiful Game: Bill Nighy stars in a film about tackling homelessness through football

The Beautiful Game: Bill Nighy stars in a film about tackling homelessness through football

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Bill Nighy plays a soccer coach in a new movie about the Homeless World Cup

On a cloudy Monday afternoon, Bill Nighy stands in the middle of a football pitch in south London.

“Come on, let's go,” the actor shouted to the dozens of men who showed up hoping to be chosen to represent their country.

Nye directs his newest character – a football coach who leads the England team to an international tournament.

The tournament is the Homeless World Cup, and to promote his new film The Beautiful Game, the Oscar-nominated actor attended real-life trials for the upcoming event in South Korea.

“I didn't know anything about the Homeless World Cup before, but it's a really simple and exciting idea,” Nighy says.

For him, one of the best things about being part of the movie is meeting extras who have been involved in real-life heroics and are now no longer homeless. “It's a nice bit of symmetry,” Nighy told the BBC.

The Homeless World Cup involves a four-legged system, and the film takes football back to its basics, removing the fame, money and power that is sometimes associated with the game.

Although 'The Beautiful Game' shows the power of sport to bring about change, the actor – who is a Crystal Palace fan – admits he is not sure if football actually has that power.

“I'm not really sure,” he says. “But I think it brings everyone together and brings people from all over the world together. It's a universal language for about half the world, and I think it can somewhat mitigate prejudice.”

England's real coach at the Homeless World Cup is Frankie Juma, who started playing football in the UK when he joined the refugee team.

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Frankie Juma started playing for the Refugees team when he came to the UK from Sudan

He says he wants to become a coach in order to give back to the community. “It's nice to do something that gives back to the country that gave me a safe space, and I love helping people and making those who have been through similar experiences feel comfortable.”

In Friday's training sessions, it's not just about football.

“We probably play 30% football and support 70% because the people who come to us often need access to education or services like housing, which is a big problem at the moment,” he explains.

Juma is now looking for eight men who will represent England at the upcoming Homeless World Cup in September.

One player who caught his attention is 35-year-old Courtney, who has had his share of ups and downs.

“I'm back to football now because it really helps me get rid of stress and makes me forget everything in life, because I just want to have fun and build my fitness,” he says.

He says football helped him avoid homelessness. “If you're here, I'm not doing things I shouldn't be doing.”

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Courtney says football helps him take his mind off other things

Courtney says representing England would be a dream.

“Some people might say I'm the black Tony Adams, and if we stay focused, there's no reason why we can't move forward.”

One member of the film crew who particularly relates to Courtney's experience of homelessness is Michael Ward.

Ward plays Vinnie, a star player who lives in his car after the breakdown of his relationship, and the Top Boy actor himself experienced homelessness growing up.

“My family and I have been homeless many times and I didn't realize it because my mother would try to cover it up, and the times she wasn't able to do that she would joke about it. So I never understood the seriousness behind it,” he tells the BBC.

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Michael Ward experienced homelessness growing up

Ward found a new perspective on homelessness after spending time with the film's extras, who were former Homeless World Cup participants.

“I want people to get rid of the idea that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I'm guilty of doing that and seeing people on the street thinking, 'What the hell?' But you realize a lot of situations that aren't their fault, or they're escalating and we don't know where that's coming from.

“I'm now trying to be more aware and do more to help.”

“You've come full circle”

Raf Aziz is a former Homeless World Cup player, and represented England at the 2018 tournament in Mexico.

The 32-year-old came to the UK 12 years ago and experienced homelessness and prison before finding accommodation in a Salvation Army hostel for four years.

While there, he joined a soccer project and his passion for the sport continued to grow.

“There's a clear before and after for me,” he says. “When I came back from the tournament in 2018, I was full of confidence, able to network, make a lot of friends, and felt really inspired to give back to the community.”

The power of sport to create community should not be underestimated, says Mel Young, founder of the Homeless World Cup, who also set up Big Issue Scotland.

“The power of sports is actually underrated, and I think we need to use sports more because it is a common language that people can understand.”

After competing, Aziz chose to train as a charity worker at the organization that helped him when he first arrived.

“I have come full circle since my days of homelessness, all thanks to the opportunities the Homeless World Cup has afforded me.”

The Beautiful Game is streaming on Netflix starting Friday, March 29.

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