Mal Bradley In ‘The Beautiful Game’ Is Based On Real-Life Craig McManus: Where Is He Now?


Someone believing in themselves is not enough. You need someone to believe in you too. That was Mal Bradley’s role in Vinny Walker’s life. The English coach of the Homeless Team, Mal, put his faith in Vinny because he respected the boy’s talent. And even though Netflix’s The Beautiful Game is not based on a true story, Mal’s character is loosely inspired by a real-life football player and manager, Craig McManus. Some parts of Craig’s story have also been used for Vinny’s character, which we will discuss in this article.

For the uninitiated, the Homeless World Cup is a real-life football tournament that was founded in 2001. It had its first tournament in 2003, and since then, it has organized 18 such events. The last one took place in 2023 in Sacramento. In the film, we came across the 20th Homeless World Cup, which in real life hasn’t happened so far. The Homeless World Cup has happened in many countries but never in Rome, but hopefully one day. In short, even though the characters of Vinny and Mal are loosely based on real-life people, the story is entirely fictional, except for a few stories of the football players, which have been used in the film to make their journey feel more authentic.

Who is Craig McManus?

Born in Glasgow in around 1976, Craig McManus dedicated his entire life to football while playing as a semi-professional player for various clubs in Scotland. But perhaps it wasn’t enough to earn daily bread and butter, and therefore Craig had to make a decision. He moved to Edinburgh and worked as a senior consultant for various recruitment firms. In 2011, Craig even worked for the Edinburgh Cyrenians for two years, which he finally left in March 2014. However, in this entire white-collar hustle, Craig’s first love, just like Vinny and Mal, always remained football.

According to Craig’s testimony on the official Homeless World Cup website, the Scottish footballer battled with addiction for the past 20 years, but a series of unfortunate events tipped him off. In 2015, Craig not only lost his job and home but also his father, after which he found himself living on the streets of Edinburgh, just like Vinny. However, Craig didn’t want to end up being a drug addict, and spent the rest of his days on the street. He decided to make proper amends in order to make his life better. He entered into a drug addiction program, which helped him start his journey of sobriety. But that wasn’t enough, right? Like most of us, including Lisa Wrightsman, Craig needed a new path in life that would save him from his own demons. Thankfully, Craig found a new life in football. 

While staying in a hostel for recovering addicts, Craig came across Street Soccer Scotland and became a part of the program. This hostel for homeless people has also been portrayed in Netflix’s film, where Mal Bradley and his team had been living after being abandoned by their loved ones.

In 2016, Craig’s talent helped him become the captain of his country’s Homeless Football Team. He even played in the 14th Homeless World Cup. The most amazing part is that the tournament took place in Craig’s own home town, Glasgow, therefore bringing him back to his roots, from which he had been running away for such a long time. For Craig, it was a sign from the universe that was trying to show him his future goal, and Craig didn’t stop chasing that dream from thereon. Bill Nighy’s character in Netflix’s The Beautiful Game even makes a mention of the Glasgow Tournament as a tribute to Craig’s real-life journey.

How Did Craig Become a Football Manager?

In 2016, Craig developed strong connections with the England team managers, which helped him move to London as a sports volunteer. He volunteered for a London-based non-profit organization called Centrepoint, which had developed its own street football program to help homeless individuals. A year later, Craig was promoted to Senior Program Officer and later became Senior Development Officer, looking after the day-to-day management of the program and helping the homeless kids develop their football skills. It helped them nurture a sense of belonging to the sport. He also managed and coached the Street Football Team England. Craig finally left Centrepoint in November 2019 and took on the role of manager at Street Soccer London, a charity organization that helps socially disadvantaged youth and adults in London make positive changes in their lives through football. Craig worked for the charity for 3 years before returning to Scotland. 

In November 2022, Craig took on the role of partnership manager at Street Soccer Scotland, therefore helping his own country’s homeless football team. As of now, Craig lives in Middlesbrough, England, where he works as the Deputy Head for the MFC Foundation, which uses the influence of its football club to help the local communities of Teesside. Throughout these years, Craig has had an inspiring journey, and he continues to help homeless individuals in whatever ways he can.

What Does Craig’s Journey Tell Us?

Netflix’s The Beautiful Game ends with Vinny teaching the new batch of homeless individuals how to improve their lives and save themselves from addiction through football. People like Craig McManus and Lisa Wrightsman have been doing the same thing for so many years and on a much larger scale. We understand that managing homeless individuals through various clubs, charities, and foundations could be a complicated hierarchy, and therefore, without dwelling on those complicated affairs, Netflix’s film tells a simple story of these real-life superheroes who changed their own and others’ lives for the better. Today, they are sending the elevator back so that they can help more and more people who are stuck in a situation and have nowhere to go. Football gives them a medium to channel their energy, and the Homeless World Cup gives them a platform to reveal their true talent to the world, just to make a loud and clear statement that even though they are homeless, they are not hopeless.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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