The final score is not the raison d’être of the Homeless World Cup of Soccer. That said, Canada’s mixed team won its division by defeating South Korea at the annual tournament last month in Chile. Courtenay’s Christine Watson, a member of Maple Pool United, was the lone female in the lineup.
“Christine distinguished herself on and off the field,” said coach Grant Shilling, an outreach worker at the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society. He accompanied Watson on the trip.
“She was playing for an all-men’s team in basically an all-men’s division. She quickly became both a player favourite and a fan favourite, and a bit of a celebrity in Santiago. People were so impressed with what I call her ‘tenacious D.’ When I recommended her to Team Canada I said she doesn’t back down from anyone on defence. She was going up against superbly talented soccer players from countries like Chile and Brazil.”
A Dawn to Dawn initiative, the local street soccer program enables homeless and marginalized individuals to exercise, socialize and compete in a fun environment. The sport involves four-person teams that play on a field about 22 metres long.
Shilling credits Watson for creating opportunities by breaking down opponents’ passing.
The Canadian team played in 15 games against the likes of Chile, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Slovenia, Argentina, the U.S. and Northern Ireland.
“It was an awesome trip,” Watson said, noting the temperature at times reached 38 Celsius. “The main games that we needed to win we pulled it together.”
Watson underwent several facial surgeries following a dog attack in 1999. She still suffers migraines. The 41-year-old receives disability assistance, and is on a methadose recovery program.
She received the Ref’s Whistle Award for fair play.
“I can’t say how proud of her I am,” Shilling said. “She’s a better person because of it, and so am I.
“It (Homeless World Cup) strengthens my conviction in the power of this program and what it offers people and what they get from it and how it gives them an opportunity to excel, and she took full advantage of that.”
Shilling marvelled at the camaraderie amongst all players, and at the atmosphere of an opening-day parade involving 1,000 marginalized people on the streets of Santiago — which has seen its share of revolutionary protests over the years.
“On that day they marched in solidarity, and on that day they showed that a ball can change the world,” he said. “The whole experience was very emotional. I had a girl from Team USA say to me: ‘They used to call me a drug addict, now they call me a soccer player’.”
Next June, Shilling hopes Maple Pool United can host the Cascade Cup street soccer tournament that would pit locals against players he met from the west coast of the States. The tourney could be used as the qualifier to pick Canada’s national team for next year’s tournament in Amsterdam.