x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Poland football at home with social integration

Poland are preparing to reassert their good global form in the sport, for the homeless, when they host the 2013 World Cup.

Robert Trykowski want to emulate Przemyslaw Tyton, the substitute goalkeeper who saved a penalty against Greece at Euro 2012.
Robert Trykowski want to emulate Przemyslaw Tyton, the substitute goalkeeper who saved a penalty against Greece at Euro 2012.

With Euro 2012 in full swing, Polish footballers of a different sort are training for the 72-team Homeless World Cup to be played in Mexico City this October.

For them, football is a way to reintegrate into society, with the sport helping them survive trying times.

Robert Trykowski, 30, a goalkeeper in the Poland line-up and a recovering alcoholic, said football is his whole life.

"If it weren't for football, I would have put a bullet in my head," he said.

The idea that football could facilitate social reintegration began in Scotland and spread throughout Britain. The first annual Homeless World Cup took place in Graz, Austria, in 2003.

"Beating homelessness through football" is the message of the championships, taking place for the 10th time this year with 56 nations in the men's tournament and 16 in the women's face-off.

"Football is an important supplement to therapy for the homeless," said Maciej Gudra, manager of Poland's homeless football team.

"The goal is to help them overcome their addictions and get off the streets."

Twenty Polish players were selected in May during the last national homeless football tournament in the central Polish city Poznan, but only eight will go to Mexico, including two of four goalkeepers.

Trykowski hopes to make the cut, which the coach will announce in the lead-up to the October World Cup.

"I'll do everything to go. And I'll make it, I know it. I'm good at defending penalty kicks and that counts for a lot," Trykowski said.

He could barely contain his enthusiasm on June 8 as he watched the Poland-Greece opening match of the Euro 2012 football showcase on the giant screen set up in Warsaw's fan zone, all the while thinking of his own tournament in Mexico and the medals he hopes to bring back.

"Mexico is the best thing that could happen to me," said the footballer, who has lived in a homeless shelter in Poland's northern city of Grudziadz for the past year.

Trykowski admires Przemyslaw Tyton, the Polish substitute goalie who saved a penalty kick in Poland's match against Greece on day 1 of the championships.

"He waited a little, then he catapulted himself to catch the ball. I do the exact same thing," Trykowski said.

In late May, Trykowski's homeless team won an urban football tournament in Cieszyn, southern Poland, where rival players included the homeless as well as lawyers, priests and police officers.

In urban football, teams consist of only four players: one goalkeeper and three defenders or attackers. The field is also smaller, at 16 by 22 metres with the net 4m wide and 1.3m high. The "stadium" is the street.

This small-scale urban football is the kind played at the Homeless World Cup.

During the Cieszyn tournament, Trykowski wore Poland's jersey for the first time, a red shirt with a white eagle, the national emblem, and his No 1 on the back. The Polish team is competitive, but still not completely in sync, as the players come from different parts of Poland and have had few opportunities to train together, according to Dominik Czapczyk, the coach. Poland is creating a strong reputation for itself in global homeless football, having twice won bronze and twice silver, Gudra said.

Each year there is a new line-up with new players.

The results are encouraging: of the 63 footballers who played in the last championships, 60 resumed a normal life. Only three stayed homeless, Gudra said.

Trykowski is confident about this year's Homeless World Cup.

"I lost everything in life, everything I had, everything I loved. It took me a while, but I'm finally getting back on my feet," he said.

"Football motivates me and shows me that anything is possible in life. I know things can only get better for me."

In 2013, it will be Poland's turn to host the football Homeless World Cup.

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