Photo courtesy of Jennifer Meyers
Cliff Byrd (far right) was recently selected to represent the U.S. at the Homeless World Cup in Oslo, Norway.
St. Louis is now home to one of the newest internationally recognized soccer stars — but you may not guess what team he plays for.
Cliff Byrd was recently selected as a goalie to represent Team USA in the fifteenth annual Homeless World Cup against more than 70 teams worldwide. The competition will take place from Aug. 29 until Sept. 5 in Oslo, Norway.
Byrd is currently a member of St. Louis' No. 1 (and only) homeless street soccer league, the St. Louis Roadies
, founded by Peter & Paul Community Services. The league is a part of the national organization for homeless soccer, known as Street Soccer USA
, which has a total of sixteen teams all around the country.
The Roadies' coaches nominated Byrd as a promising player by alerting the organizers of the Street Soccer USA National Tournament. At the national tournament in Philadelphia June 9-11, the organizers observed all the nominees to select their dream team, considering the players’ progress both on and off the field.
“In the end, that's what this is all about,” says coach Joe Campanella says. “In Cliff's case, he has worked very hard this past year on a variety of issues that have held him back in the past. He's made tremendous strides. He's ready and we're all very proud of him."
Photo courtesy of Jessica Meyers
Byrd (far left) was selected to go to nationals last year in Scotland, but "had some issues" that prevented him from going. "This year I worked so hard to keep those problems away and that really helped," Byrd said. "The coaches were really helpful and proud of me."
In fact, self-improvement is one of the team's main goals. Of the more than 160 players who have been a part of the Roadies since its inception in 2009, many have found jobs, reconnected with family, become debt-free, fulfilled parole expectations, remained sober, found and maintained housing, received counseling and volunteered in the community. Even more, of the 500-plus players in the annual Homeless World Cup
, 94 percent say it has positively impacted their lives, 83 percent say it has improved social relations with family and friends, and 77 percent say their lives are significantly changed because of the sport.
Byrd, who’s been involved with BJC Behavioral Health since he was eighteen, moved to one of Peter and Paul's transitional housing centers, known as the Labre Center, almost two years ago. It was there that he discovered the Roadies.
“I learned about the Roadies, and voilà!” Byrd says. “It means everything. Like most people here, I suffer from mental illnesses, which have been hard, but soccer has helped a lot with that.”
According to Jennifer Meyers, the communications coordinator for Pete and Paul, the organization launched more than 30 years ago after Soulard community members discovered a man who had frozen to death on their streets. The nonprofit was founded on the principle that something needed to be done to help people struggling with homelessness.
Now, the organization funds a variety of programs including transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, emergency centers, a meals program, and an arts and athletics program, which is where the Roadies fall into. Through donations and fundraising, Peter and Paul supports the team with all transportation and housing needs as they travel to competitions.
“It’s a good way for all of these individuals to come together, get to know one another, and get to know the coaches and staff members on a different level as more of a camaraderie, because it helps build a confidence,” Meyers says. “We hope that by offering these types of programs, we offer different types of outlets for people that might be finding their interests.”
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Meyers
Byrd wasn't always a goalie. He used to be a striker, but the team's goalie passed away this year. "They needed someone to step up and I was crazy enough to." Byrd will be the starting goalie at the global competition.
You can catch the roughly ten-player team in action every Friday in the parking lot of Garfield, Peter and Paul's permanent supportive housing building, located on Wyoming Street, near Cherokee Street. The Roadies have their own designated “pitch,” or turf court with four-foot high walls on all sides, which allow the ball to bounce around without going out of bounds. The fast-paced games consist of two seven-minute halves.
Locally, the team hosts its own scrimmages with each other and games against high schools and universities including Priory and Washington University.
For now, Byrd, who’s never been out of the country before, is excited to “soak it all in” by seeing sights, meeting new people, and playing his best in Norway this August. With his two-year residency at Labre almost up, Byrd hopes to make steps to continue his life by moving into his own apartment by the end of the month.
He says his motto is a simple one. “Give 100 percent," he says. "Even if you’re losing, give it all and you will be rewarded.”