‘The feel of the game’ | On the streets, Charlotte participants experience football as sole force

Abouseyf Negadi (inset), 23, of Algeria, provided an impromptu Arabic lesson at the 2006 Homeless USA Cup in Charlotte. He represented the New York team that defeated Pennsylvania in the final.

Charlotte, North Carolina | Given the rigors of a night-shift job, Ron “Pop” Miller sometimes would sleep until the last possible moment before practices preceding the Homeless World Cup. Physical conditioning, fatigue and poor nutrition all posed obstacles for Miller’s participation in the fifth homeless tournament between Jul 29 and Aug 4 in Copenhagen.


Further, Miller found himself learning a new game that some teammates from Central America had been playing much of their lives. “I’m a newcomer to it,” said Miller in an interview as part of the Aug 21 podcast. “It took a lot of persistence and patience and really sticking out the practice, watching what the others are doing, even practicing in your off-time sometimes, even when you’re not with the team—just go out there, kick it around and try to get the feel of the game.” (See also Miller’s essay on the Copenhagen experience, “I Played in the Homeless World Cup,” Orato, Sept 5).

Giving homeless and formerly homeless men and women the feel of four-on-four street soccer has formed part of the program of life transformation at the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte. Lawrence Cann, director of Community Works 945, employs the sport as another “point of contact” for marginalized people. The game offers a spiritual component that compares to taking up a paintbrush or nourishing a plant; arts and gardening constitute parallel pursuits in the Community Works triumverate.

“You can kind of invent your way in the game,” says Cann, a former Davidson College player who founded the Art Works Football Club, now called Street Soccer 945, in 2004. Rob Cann, Lawrence’s brother and a former player at East Carolina, coaches the team after having started as an intern in 2005.

Soccer for the Charlotte brothers and the participants has meted out large doses of humility and made patience a prerequisite. For nearly two years after its founding, the Art Works/Street Soccer club, playing in Charlotte-area indoor leagues, did not record a match victory (see “NL31: Victory!” Street Soccer 945, 31 Jul 06, for a report of the first win). Lawrence Cann’s diaries chronicle the comings and goings of players as they struggle with addictions and housing, intrasquad squabbling, spontaneous kickabouts and the passing on of soccer and life skills that helped build a team, despite a string of 45 defeats, that represented the United States at the Homeless World Cup in Edinburgh in 2005. The Canns’ connection with the team is such that Lawrence for a week drove with a player’s stepfather’s ashes in a small tin in his car.

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