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How the generosity of British football fans brought hope to homeless street children.
By National Football Museum and Street Child United
Today, in a number of far-flung corners of the world, you’re as likely to see young street children wearing a Stockport County, Carlisle, Bury or Wigan football shirt as those of their more illustrious English Premier League rivals Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City.
Football shirts may be ten-a-penny on the streets and avenues of Britain – they’re worn by everyone from wide-eyed young kids wanting to emulate their heroes to dads whose dreams of a career as England centre-forward may now be as unrealistic as their attempts to squeeze modestly into a medium-sized Arsenal top.
But for many kids in the world, those for whom survival on the streets is a daily and very real struggle, possession of an authentic football shirt is far more than simply owning a humble piece of clothing.
It is acknowledgment that someone has noticed them. It is vindication of life, of worth. It is hope.
At the beginning of the 2014 – 2015 football season the National Football Museum in Manchester launched a National Football Shirt Amnesty to help charity Street Child United make a difference to the lives of street children.
Street Child United uses the power of sport to challenge the negative perceptions and treatment of street children. Ahead of each FIFA World Cup, they organise the Street Child World Cup where 230 street children from across the world come together to play in a unique football tournament, festival of arts and congress for children’s rights. They are street children united for their rights.
The museum asked householders across Britain to dig out their old, unloved and now unused football shirts and donate them to the charity, who could put them to excellent use through their global network of outstanding grassroots projects using football to help transform the lives of children living and working on the streets.
Football fans across the UK reached deep into their wardrobes digging out and donating just over 600 shirts in total – even football celebrities got in on the act with donations from amongst others, soccer legends Gordon Strachan, England and Arsenal footballer Alex Scott and BBC commentator Guy Mowbray.
In the build up to the new season, those old, ill-fitting shirts are now bringing new joy and hope to homeless children all over the world.
By far the most popular shirts donated were from Manchester City – with a whopping 61 handed over to the acclaimed Manchester based museum. Then came donations of England shirts followed by Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United and Liverpool FC tops. Somewhat surprising was that the next most popular shirt came in the colours of Stockport County FC from the Conference North division.
Shirts of more than 80 teams were handed over by fans to be hung in the Museum’s Hall of Fame during the Amnesty – with some being sent from fans as far away as South Africa, Peru and Japan.
John Wroe, CEO of Street Child United, said: “Watching the shirts from the National Football Museum Shirt Amnesty be shared with street children across the world has been a brilliant reminder of the power of the kindness of strangers and of football.
“A change of clothes is a rare option for street children. The closest some street children get to a “wardrobe” is a plastic bag stuffed up a tall tree and carefully hidden from view.
“Since the shirt amnesty, I’ve seen football shirts from across Britain on thee backs of street children around the world. And it’s not just the Premier League clubs – Wigan Athletic, Swansea City, Carlisle United and Bury are just some of the teams that are now being worn with pride.
“This pride matches the determination of each of these children to have a brighter future no matter their background.”
In Brazil the shirts were given to the charity Favela Street Girl, who organised 2014 Street Child World Cup Girls Champions – Brazil, who in turn passed them forward to street children in real need as part of their ‘Street Christmas’ programme in December 2014 in Rio de Janeiro.
Team Captain Drika explained why she wanted other young children to receive the shirts, “I want to take on responsibility and make other children smile as well. I want them to know that they are somebody too.” And the shirts as donated by UK football fans helped the girls to do this.
The team of nine girls, now leaders in their community, use football to inspire other children at risk of the streets and gangs to realise their dreams. After the shirts were handed out the girls organised a festive game of football.
In Kenya the shirts donated were given to all of the young people in the care of street child charity, Glad’s House.
Vicky Ferguson, CEO, of Glad’s House said: “Many street children do not have football shirts, so to receive one is a real treat.”
The girls at Glad’s House were quick to jump on the selection of Chelsea FC shirts and to form their own Kenyan Chelsea team.
Vicky added: “It was amazing to be able to give them something that means so much to them, the shirts give them a huge sense of pride and of being valued.”
In South Africa, Street Child World Cup, through their partner Umthombo, shared the shirts with the street children they work with at a fun-filled and aspirational holiday camp. The group included the 15 boys and girls who took part in the 2014 Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was on the last day of camp, that the shirts were given to the children as special tokens of their excellence and achievements in 2014.
“There was great excitement and faces lit up as each child received their football shirt.“
Manchester City might be interested to know they could have a new franchise in Burundi, East Africa as street children there received a variety of old home and away City shirts as part of the amnesty.
A second round of shirts were given to children as part of the International Day for Street Children celebrations, bringing much joy and excitement to the street children they work with.
And it appears that Wigan Athletic can now count an enthusiastic young fan in Burundi who was particularly happy with his home shirt.
In Pakistan the boys who made up the 2014 Street Child World Cup team were happy to receive shirts as part of the amnesty. The team have used football and their Street Child World Cup triumphs to inspire their Government to better protect and support the 1.5 million children living on the streets of Pakistan.
Kevin Moore director of the National Football Museum, said: “We are delighted that through our efforts and those of hundreds of football fans across the nation, we have been able to bring new joy and hope into the lives of so many homeless street children across the world. “Football and football fans are often the recipients of bad press but, when you see this kind of effort reap such positive rewards, it’s impossible not to see how much joy the game and all those involved can bring.”
“When ever people come across me they laugh. It seems like my mouth is zipped because they talk for us. I wish they could give us a chance to talk for ourselves.”
“I know from personal experience just what power football can have to inspire and change young people’s lives whatever their background or nationality. This is what the Street Child World Cup is all about and I give it my full support.”
“I experienced hardcore street life in my youth. I know what it’s like. I congratulate the Street Child World Cup project in it’s commitment to bring attention to the plight of Street Children through the power of football.”