With the World at their Feet
by Rebecca Solevåg
|With the |
|by Rebecca Solevåg|
THE Norwegian soccer team marches proudly through the sloping streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, towards Princes Street Garden, below Edinburgh Castle.
| It’s the opening day of the soccer tournament and 250 players from 27 countries are parading to the stadium.|
Stein Egil Sæteren puts himself into the game
|The scene could form part of any major tournament but this one is different – these men are either homeless or undergoing treatment for substance addiction. The tournament is the Homeless World Cup. For five days they are going to compete against other teams and against themselves. Their only stimuli will be physical exertion and team spirit.|
Two days before kick-off, eight men boarded the Salvation Army soup bus in Oslo. At the Kristiansand ferry landing to England it was discovered that two of them had forgotten their passports. Coach Rune Isegran rushed home and caught a plane the following day. He just made it to the opening ceremony.
It may not be the FIFA World Cup but this group of men have taken their responsibilities seriously. Rune Isegran, in charge of The Salvation Army’s Harbour Light Centre in Oslo, has trained them for three months. On the day before they left Norway they got some advice from the Norwegian international soccer player Henning Berg. They were as ready as they could be.
1. Glenn Martinsen
Place of birth: Oslo, Norway
Has been homeless for five years. Was in rehab a few years ago but didn’t make it. Now back in rehab and doing well.
About playing in the team: ‘It is a great award for my achievement. I’ve stayed clean and do not live on the street any more. I think we’re doing well as a team.’
2. Leif Olsen
Place of birth: Bodø, Norway
Has been in rehab for 18 months for amphetamin abuse.
Has two daughters aged six and 12.
About playing in the team: ‘This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I can’t believe I’m actually in Scotland. I am so grateful to the anonymous donor who made this trip possible. And to The Salvation Army, of course.’
3. Garth Garseth
Place of birth: Canada
Was homeless for a long time but currently
has housing. Cares about people. Doesn’t
think negatively about people because they
are on drugs.
About playing in the team: ‘It means a lot to me. We get to know each other and we care about each other.’
4. Rune Ervik
Position: Midfield – team captain and founder
Place of birth: Tønsberg, Norway
The Harbour Light Centre has been Rune’s second home for 20 years. Has been homeless but not a substance abuser.
Has been in the French Foreign Legion and worked as a debt-collector. Has a five-year-old son.
About himself: ‘I was a violent man for 30 years.
Then I changed – out with the Devil, in with God.’
About playing in the team: ‘It is a social event. We get to know each other. I still have a problem with authority but am in a learning process. We’ll be even better next year.’
5. Kenth Hammer
Place of birth: Oslo, Norway
Was in rehab in Trondheim when he was asked to join the team by the Harbour Light Centre.
About playing in the team: ‘It really means a lot. It gives me self-confidence. I don’t have to look at the ground and feel inferior to other people. I am very grateful to The Salvation Army.’
6. Stein Egil Sæteren
Place of birth: Oppdal, Norway
A frequent visitor to the Harbour Light Centre, a social worker told him about the soccer team. Wants to live a clean and proper life but finds it hard.
About playing in the team: ‘First I thought we
were a lousy team but not any more. This is a temperamental
and explosive sport and I am a more sensitive type, but it has worked out well. I pray for the team. If we work hard
for a year, maybe we will do well next year.’
7. Knut Hjelseth
Position: Second goalkeeper
Place of birth: Haag, Norway
Heard about the team – while in rehab – through team-mate Glenn. Has been in rehab for five months. Has always held down a job but lived on the streets for a while. Is a qualified plumber.
About playing in the team: ‘It’s energising! I don’t love playing football but being part of the team means a lot. We have to stay positive and enjoy this wonderful trip.’
Timo Anton (not pictured)
Place of birth: Finland
Visits the Harbour Light Centre several times a week. Used to live in the woods then squatted in a fire-damaged house, where (coach) Martin from the centre found him. Now has his own apartment.
About playing in the team: ‘It is great to meet people from all over the world. Finally, we are doing well as a team too.’
8. Martin Brooke from The Salvation Army (coach)
9. Rune Isegran from The Salvation Army (national team leader)
‘What a gang,’ says striker Glenn Martinsen. ‘They’re all problem kids. There will be many temptations.’
But coach Rune is quite clear. Nothing but cigarettes, he says, or you’re on the first plane home.
‘That’s fine with me,’ says Glenn’s strike partner Stein Egil Sæteren. Stein wants to live a clean and proper life and welcomes clear rules.
The Salvation Army flag is held aloft during a parade at the beginning of the tournament
After a 6-1 defeat by Namibia on the opening day, the players realise they may have to lower their ambitions. Goalkeeper Leif Olsen has been screaming and shouting at the other players for more goals. Garth Garseth gained a black eye from a tough fight in a game against England and coach Rune is not in a good mood.
Finally, they give in and the players turn against each other. ‘A success?’ they say. ‘Us? A gang of dope addicts from Norway? How could we ever have believed that?’
The coach calms them down. ‘We’re here for the experience,’ he says, ‘and to have fun. Don’t forget that, we’re here to have fun! What’s the motto, guys?’
‘High effort – high spirits,’ they all chime in and laugh at themselves. As they talk amongst themselves they begin to realise that just being at the tournament is an achievement – an experience they never expected.
The team bonding session seems to do the job as they then beat the USA by seven goals to one. The spectators cheer and the Norwegian team is on top of the world. No one at the Homeless World Cup, they say, will ever forget that the Norwegian flag is red, white and blue.
After this match there are ups and downs, but it doesn’t seem to matter any more.
Goalkeeper Leif Olsen sets up an attack
‘We are a team now,’ says Stein Egil.
‘Maybe I shouldn’t go into rehab after all,’ adds Leif. ‘I want to be goalkeeper next year too!’
Kenth Hammer says he can hold his head up for the first time in ages. He’s proud and happy and humble – all at the same time! ‘It’s the self esteem,’ he says. ‘I wish I could always walk around without looking at the ground, without always feeling inferior to others.’ At least now he has reason to feel good about himself – even if it’s only for a while.
The players set their hearts on beating Sweden and are really disappointed after losing in a penalty shoot-out. But the Swedes are forgiven because of their great attitude.
‘Real street urchins, those Swedes,’ says Rune, knowingly.
The drama picks up on Saturday, when the Norwegians play China. The adrenalin kicks in when they realise they need to win to get through their group. After two hard matches the result is still undecided. The penalty shoot-out that follows is tough and nurse Helene Elvebråten is standing by with her red emergency suitcase.
Despite being knocked out of the tournament, the Norwegian players celebrate with their Chinese counterparts
The loss is too much for former debt-collector Rune Ervik who picks up a Chinese player and dumps him on a rubber mat in sheer frustration as the referee blows his whistle for full time.
But afterwards the Norwegian and Chinese players join hands to receive the appreciation of the crowd.
‘That was a good game, guys,’ says the coach. ‘Well done. The spectators loved it!’
The disappointment soon passes and they end the tournament on a high, beating Slovakia 9-3 on the final day.
Reigning champions Italy regained their title, beating Poland in the finals. Ukraine came third after a surprise victory over the home team – though in this tournament it’s hard to talk about a home team!
Celebrating a victory
All too soon the Norwegians are heading home. They may not have been world-beaters but the men from the Harbour Light Centre have had an experience they will never forget. It’s been a week of soccer, friendship and – for many – new beginnings.
This original Norwegian version of this article was first published in Krigsropet magazine of The Salvation Army