Friday, September 26, 2008

UF Goes to the Movies: Kicking It

A little while ago, ESPN acquired a documentary regarding the Homeless World Cup and has been showing the film (albeit at odd times/days) on its network. The piece is produced by Washinton Capitals (that's the NHL, people) owner Ted Leonsis, and is narrated by actor Colin Farrell. "Kicking It" follows the story of several homeless people as they progress to the annual tournament designed to call attention to the plight of the approximately 1 billion homeless people worldwide (representing 15% of the world population).

The film starts off discussing the idea of football as teaching discipline and a sense of community, and notes that it is played throughout the entire world. Over the course of the documentary we are then introduced to 7 individuals who are attempting to make one of the 48 national teams competing at the 2006 Homeless World Cup held in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Players:

Damien (23 years old), is a heroin addict from Dublin, Ireland who was kicked out of his home by his mother when his drug habit became too much for her to bear. Although he is once again living at home and undergoing methadone treatment for his addiction, the rampant heroin epidemic in Dublin is difficult for him to resist.

Alex (29 years old), lives in one of the largest (and most dangerous) slums of Nairobi, Kenya with over 500,000 other homeless people at the heart of the AIDS epidemic. He has a job cleaning toilets and works hard during his off-hours building a pitch by hand with numerous other volunteers in order for the team to have somewhere to practice. Soon after we meet Alex, he informs us that he would be dead if he did not have football to ease his pain. He is looking to make Kenya's first Homeless World Cup squad, as they were unable to attend the 2005 tournament held in England due to visa problems (the U.K. would not let them enter, fearing that they had nothing to return to in Kenya).

Jesus (62 years old), is one of the estimated 300,000 homeless in Spain. He currently lives in a homeless shelter in Madrid, and hasn't seen his family in over 10 years since he spent a significant amount of time in prison for bank robbery. Having spent some time in the Real Madrid youth system, Jesus' life has deteriorated to the point where he has contemplated suicide.

Craig (19 years old), attends the US trials in Charlotte, North Carolina hoping to make the US squad. Originally from Chicago, he suffered severe child abuse and no longer has any contact with his family. The coaches note that he has an anger-management problem, but they feel that he is precisely the type of individual that they should be looking to help.

Najib (23 years old), has returned to war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan after having fled to Pakistan with those members of his family who had not been killed in the war. Among the estimated 6 million homeless (mainly from various wars and tribal in-fighting) in the country, he grew up playing a sport that was outlawed by the vicious Taliban regime, who used the only stadium to hold public executions.

Simon (29 years old), is also on the Irish squad. After losing his brother to drugs, he spent some time in prison and came out to a life of homelessness.

Slava (27 years old), is originally from Shenkursk, Russia but moved to St. Petersburg in an attempt to make a better life. Unfortunately, he had nowhere to live, and therefore no proof of residency which is mandatory for a work permit. Joining the estimated 5 million homeless without registration in Russia (a subject considered too taboo to discuss), he feels that the Russian team must finish in at least 3rd place in order to call attention to their plight.

The Tournament:

Even before the tournament begins, we see how much attending the Homeless World Cup means to the players. Damien and Simon have huge smiles on their faces as the team is introduced at half-time of an Ireland-Holland match, and Najib beams as he talks about raising money for the Afghan team to purchase suits to wear to opening ceremonies. When the tournament begins with a welcome from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, many of the players are in awe that such an important man would speak to them (although quite a few had to be told who he was).

The format for the Homeless World Cup is 4-on-4, with 1 keeper and 3 outfield players on either side. A win earns 3 points, and a loss 0, with all matches requiring a winner (going immediately to PKs if necessary). Throughout the tournament, the teams' won-lost records are used to re-shuffle "divisions", with 3 main titles awarded - World Cup for the top division, Premier Cup for the 2nd division, and Edinburgh Cup for the 3rd division.

The first match that we see is USA v. Burundi, and the US coaches' fears are realized as their team loses composure earning several blue cards (equivalent to a yellow) and a red card. The US loses 6-0, and the coaches speak to the players about a lack of discipline and committing too many fouls.

We also see Kenya v. Nigeria, where the main theme is the ego of Alex. Despite being told not to take PKs by his coach, Alex takes a PK and misses with his side down 1-0. He atones for the miss by scoring the equalizer, and the game ends 2-2 forcing PKs to decide the outcome. Tied at 1-1 on PKs, Alex steps up and makes his to win the game.

Before the next round of games, we see some of the teams enjoying their time in Cape Town. The Kenyans go back to their dorm to find that they have received gifts (toiletries, food, clothes) from some Kenyans living in South Africa. The Afghan team get out and do a little bit of sight-seeing, and Najib does a little bit of flirting with Nilsa, a Paraguayan player.

Matches the next day focus mainly on Spain. In the first match, however, Ireland plays Afghanistan and the two keepers (Damien and Najib) seem to have struck up a friendship. Ireland wins a close match 5-4.

We then follow Spain in their futile attempt to win a match. They lose 9-0 to Holland, 5-1 to Mexico, 6-1 to Namibia, and 8-1 to Paraguay. Tension rises on the team as the coach tries to keep up their morale.

After a brief view of Russia beating England, we see the USA v. Australia match. Once again Craig loses his composure, earning a blue card. Unfortunately, he rips the card out of the ref's hand, earning him a red card. However, the US was up 3-1 at the time and held on to win the game. The focus then shifts to Damien, who has not taken his detox medication, and is therefore feeling unwell. The coaches notice, so they remove him from goal. Ireland loses the match 6-0, dropping them into the 3rd division.

We see the continuing drama surrounding Alex as Kenya plays Namibia. He misses a PK during the game, and his coach is furious. Despite this, however, Alex steps up when Kenya is awarded with a 2nd PK. After he misses this one as well, the coach puts him on the sideline for the rest of the game, not allowing him to participate in the deciding PKs after the match finishes 0-0. Kenya wins the match, and the coach informs Alex that he is suspended.

The next day, after following the US team as they visit an apartheid township, the documentary returns to the saga of Alex. After sitting out 1 match for his coach-imposed suspension, Alex returns to the line-up in time for Kenya to lose the next 4 matches. This drops them into the 2nd division, but they win their next 4 matches to make it all the way to the Premier Cup finals.

During the USA v. Norway match, we see Craig start to mature a bit, as he is fouled but responds by helping up his opponent. The US wins 6-2, and the coaches are very happy with the match result and Craig's behavior. The US ends the tournament having won a total of 4 matches, but perhaps the most important result is Craig's realization that he is "tired of getting mad."

The Afghan team finishes in 12th place, and Najib must say good-bye to Nilsa and return to his war-torn homeland. For them, finishing in the top 25% of all teams represents a significant step considering that they played as adolescents under the penalty of death.

The documentary ends with a focus on Ireland, Russia, and Kenya in their quests for winning championships.

The Winners:

Ireland wins its last 4 games, including a 0-0 full-time match against Uganda which they win on PKs. This puts them into the Edinburgh Cup final, which they also win (against Finland).

Kenya plays Ukraine in the Premier Cup finals, and the match ends 0-0 in full-time. In the deciding PKs, Alex misses his kick, but Kenya win 2-1.

Russia go into the World Cup finals undefeated, and they play Kazakhstan, whose only loss was to the Russians. They end the tournament undefeated, winning 1-0 in a tight match.

Overall, the documentary does an excellent job of discussing the journey to the tournament and of presenting the matches themselves. However, in the end it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these individuals are all homeless, and that the vast majority of them will return to the same difficult life they had before the Homeless World Cup. In addition, several of us here at UF saw the documentary, and we were all struck by the poor choice of dubbing all of the announcing/PA audio. Rather than use the audio from the actual tournament announcer/PA person (which, granted, may have been in Afrikaans for all we know), the film chose to provide dubbed ("fake") play-by-play commentary and PA announcing by "generic American guy." Most of us felt that it detracted from the on-screen action since it was clearly dubbed and lacked the feel of real-time audio.

If you would like more information about the Homeless World Cup, please visit their web site here.


The Fan's Attic said...

Worth your 2 hours of time but not award-worthy.

The Russian team looked good enough to beat Spurs.

Andrew said...

Stumbled across it a few weekends ago. Felt a tad guilty watching a story highlighting the plight of the homeless on a 50" flatscreen. But only a tad.

"Generic American guy" providing dubbed play-by-play commentary of a footie match . . . ESPN is preparing a suit for stealing their business model.

Keith said...

At this point, Attic, the UF XI would beat Spurs.

Andrew said...

Holy shit, there's a UF XI?!?! Were there try-outs? Is there a Youth Academy in which I may enroll my son - provided he performs up to UF standards? What are those standards? Do I even have a son?!?!

Phil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil said...

Wow. The plight of the homeless really brought out the Spurs hate.


In all seriousness, though, this has been in the Netflix queue for a bit, thanks for the heads up about the commentary. That would have been quite the unpleasant surprise.

The NY Kid said...

@Andrew - UF XI tryouts came to a halt when The Fan's Attic and I brawled over who would be starting GK.

The Fan's Attic said...

You can have the starting GK position. I'll play backup if necessary. I'm a team player...but I really want nothing to do with playing keeper. I'm vying for a central defender position.

ΓΌ75 said...

I guess I'll be third-string keeper, but first-choice striker.

jjf3 said...

Given that I absolutely suck at playing football, I volunteer to play whatever position it was the Emile Mpenza played for Citeh last year - I believe it was "fat fuck who jogged around the pitch and avoided all possible interaction with others"