07 October 2012
by Ben Carpenter
The 10th Homeless World Cup opened yesterday in spectacular style with 21,478 people attending the event during the day. Months of planning came together perfectly as Mexico provided a world-class show to open what promises to be a week-long festival football and international friendship.
A sundrenched Zocalo square in the centre of Mexico city proved a glorious setting for the annual parade. Almost 500 players from almost 50 countries, dressed in their national colours and draped in flags, led a procesion around the third-largest public square in the world.
There was an incredibly emotional atmosphere as all the players came together for the first time. Homeless World Cup president Mel Young described the scene as "a particularly moving parade when you consider the difficult journeys that each player has been through in their lives.”.
The show of solidarity amongst the players was demonstrated by the England teams who lead chanting and clapping towards other nations as they walked proudly, side by side.
Gareeth \Parker, the head of the Homeless FA (the Homeless World Cup's partner in England) was unashamed to admit there were tears beneath the shades of his sunglasses. "The level of pride in the players could not be higher right now," he said.
England's James Buckley who played in Paris last year is a perfectn illustrayion of how the event does change lives. After the experience of last year, he has turned his life around and returned this year as assistant coach. And he said he was “excited, nervous and proud to be here again!"
As the teams walked past the national palace and grand cathedral, the carnival atmosphere was heightened with deafening fireworks, glitter cannons and the sound of a marriachi band blasting through the monstrous pa system.
South African manager Clifford Martinez has been to several tournaments. “Each year the event gets bigger and bigger!” he said “Mexico have certainly raised the bar here." Scotland coach Ally Dawson felt that this year's opening ceremony was the best ever, sprinkled with some real Mexican flavour – jumping clowns on stilts, balloons, floating foam and facepaints galore were just some of the treats on display! I had to jump out of the way as a Dutch player tried her luck on a unicycle.
Everything reached a crescendo as the national guards carried out their daily raising of the enormous Mexican flag. This was the cue for the flag bearers from every country to enter the main arena – a temporary stadium packed full of 3,000 smiling Mexican fans.
One local spectator, Alicia Carrera, said that she has lived in the city for 20 years never seen anything like it. But she also confessed that "Mexicans like to do everyhing BIG - and we like any excuse for a party!"
Speeches from Wilfried Lemke, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Arturo Elias Ayub, the President of Fundacion Telmex and Homeless World Cup President Mel Young followed a crowd-rousing set from local pop act Los Vaquez. Powerful statements were read out emphasising the players and celebrating their achievements to get here – an opportunity for every individual to continue to turn their lives around. As the bells of the great cathedral chimed in the background, Young's words hung in the air "We have a dream that people from the dark side of the street can move into the light... Tgether, we can put an end to homelessness and poverty, and we can do this by picking up a ball!"
Dutch referee Michael Van Oudheusden, at his fourth Homeless World Cup, summed up the thoughts of many of the organisers when he said: "I wanted to walk with the players to feel with my heart what it means for everyone. Over the next nine days I just want to see happy people." And if this morning is anything to go by, I think we are well on our way to achieving this.”