Monday, 25 October 2010
Dave Bidini - Home and Away (192 pages, Greystone Books, 2010)
Dave Bidini prefers to write about the abstract side of sports. Consider his book Tropic of Hockey (McClelland & Stewart, 2001)(click), a story that illustrates Bidini’s disillusionment with the game he loves so much, which stirs him to partake on a cathartic search for the ‘heart of hockey’ leading him to the unlikeliest of hockey destinations, places like Hong Kong (where Gordie Howe watches him score a goal), Romania, and the United Emirates. And in Baseballissimo (McClelland & Stewart, 2005)(click), Bidini leads us to Nettuno, a small town, south of Rome, that since 1944, has been designated as the baseball capital of Italy, after American GI’s liberated the region and gifted them with baseball.
Bidini’s latest book, Home and Away: In Search of Dreams at The Homeless World Cup of Soccer (Greystone Books, 2010)(click), chronicles his year-long journey with the 2008 Canadian Homeless World Cup soccer team, masterfully inter-connecting the beauty of soccer with the despair of homelessness.
What is the Homeless World Cup of Soccer? Here is a breakdown of the rules and regulations.
• Be male or female and at least 16 years old at the time of the tournament
• Have been homeless at some point after the previous year's World Cup OR
• Make their main living income as a streetpaper vendor OR
• Be asylum seekers (who have neither positive asylum status nor working permit)
Anyone can participate regardless of his or her ability.
A maximum of 4 players per team on the court:
• 3 outfield players,
• 1 goalkeeper,
• Plus 4 substitution players (rolling substitution allowed)
The winning team gets 3 points. The losing team zero. If a match ends in a draw, it is decided by sudden-death penalty shootout.
In this case the winning team gets three points and the losing team gets one point.
• Games are 14 minutes long, in two seven-minute halves.
• The field is 22m (long) x 16m (wide).
One doesn’t always know what to expect around the next corner, as Bidini experiences first hand while walking through Moss Park in Toronto one day. He happens upon Krystall Bell, an 18-year-old runaway from Regent Park, and Billy Pagonis, a former soccer pro turned painkiller and cocaine addict, and other homeless men and women with various afflictions and addictions, all of whom seemingly manage to spring to life at the hands of a soccer ball. Bidini aptly describes his first encounter with the homeless soccer program this way, “There, on the wet sod of the early May lawn, the players’ transformation seemed wild and real, and my longstanding belief in the magic of play and the redemptive properties of sport were confirmed. And it was happening in my city.”
Paul Gregory, a bespectacled, middle-aged social-housing advocate, and one of three administrators for Street Soccer Canada invites Bidini to travel west to Calgary for the National Homeless Championships, and that experience cinches Bidini’s need to begin writing Home and Away, and then travel with the Canadian team to Melbourne, Australia later that fall, where 56 nations would compete for the Homeless World Cup of Soccer.
Throughout the book the complications and realities of homelessness are always at the forefront, no more so as when half of the Team Canada roster is left behind in Vancouver because they don’t have the proper documentation to travel abroad, and are forced to miss the World Cup competition.
The books message is a poignant one, and no better illustrated in the following passage when Billy shares details of his arrest for arguing with his girlfriend and he is described by police as being a volcano of rage, smashing and shattering anything in his wake. Bidini asks Billy if that episode was the first step towards getting clean, and he candidly replied, “You’re never really clean, even if you’re not using. You’ve lived through these things – the highs and the lows – and you’re never the same afterwards. The truth is, if you put a line of coke in front of me, I’d probably do it. I have to put myself in the position where that sort of thing won’t happen again.”