People with Purpose #3: Mel Young.

Posted: 9 November 2021

By Luke Upton

On hearing the name, the Homeless World Cup, might seem like a strange idea. Why would a football tournament be of any help to someone who lives on the streets? But since its first edition in 2003, it has touched the lives of over 100,000 homeless people every year through 17 annual events including ones in Cardiff, Mexico City, Rio, Paris, Cape Town, Amsterdam, Santiago, Melbourne and Milan. Each edition brings together more than 450 male and female players from 40+ countries around the world.


It was co-founded and has been led since that first year by Mel Young (@melyoung53), a journalist, editor and publisher turned social entrepreneur, who co-founded The Big Issue (the street newspaper sold by homeless people) in Scotland. 

The mission behind the Homeless World Cup, is to inspire homeless people to change their lives through the power of football. Homelessness can force people into isolation, which affects their ability to share, communicate their thoughts, and work with others.

When a homeless person gets involved in playing football, they build relationships; they become teammates who learn to trust and share. They are given a responsibility to attend training sessions and games, to be on time, and to be prepared to participate. And as a result they feel that they are part of something larger than themselves.

The sense of empowerment that comes from participating in street football helps homeless people see that they can change their lives; and their National Partner organisations also give them the tools they need to do just that.

Mel Young recently told The Skinny magazine: There’s homelessness now in every country in the world. And it is absurd that we have to have something like the Homeless World Cup With at least one hundred million people on the streets in the world, we’ve come up with a practical way we can change people’s lives. And I maintain if we’re changing one or two, it doesn’t matter – as long as we’re changing some. The key for us is that change. The events are great fun, but I think if we were just doing that, even if we were raising the profile of the issue and changing people’s consciousness, then I wouldn’t continue doing it. The key thing is the number of people who are actually getting involved and changing. So as long as that happens we’ll keep doing it. But for sure: our aim is not to exist!”

And those numbers are impressive, a survey of Homeless World Cup showed that:

  • 94% say the Homeless World Cup positively impacted their lives;
  • 83% improved social relations with family and friends;
  • 77% changed their lives significantly because of their involvement with football; and
  • 71% continue to play the sport.

The players at the tournament are the tip of the iceberg, individuals whose efforts and dedication to National Partner programmes—and to changing their lives—have earned them the opportunity of a lifetime. The reach of the Homeless World Cup extends much farther than the 500 players who attend the annual event.

What’s coming next? 

Covid-19 has impacted the Homeless World Cup, as it has most other events with the 2021 edition having to be cancelled. News of the 2022 edition will be announced soon.  

But there has been better news this year, with the announcement that a film is to be made for Netflix. The Beautiful Game, starring Bill Nighy and a host of other acting talent, will follow a team of English homeless footballers who travel from London to Rome to complete in an edition of the Homeless World Cup. 

Speaking on the launch, Mel Young added; “We are incredibly excited to be the focus of the upcoming film The Beautiful Game. The Homeless World Cup Foundation uses our annual tournament and the power of football as a method of tackling homelessness throughout the world. We have impacted the lives of over 1.2 million homeless people since 2003.”

He continued: “The Homeless World Cup is our contribution to tackling the homeless problem across the globe but there is so much more to do. We have proved just how powerful football can be when it is applied to a social problem and we will keep striving to do more. We hope that the work we do being told in The Beautiful Game inspires more people to join in and support future Homeless World Cups and together we can all aim to end homelessness forever.” 

For more inspiration like this:

Sign up for Good Work – our newsletter dedicated to bringing inspiration, stories and resources to those putting positive values at the heart of this business.