‘The Beautiful Game’ True Story, Explained: Is Homeless Football Tournament Real?


The Beautiful Game, directed by Thea Sharock, is not exactly a biography, but it could be said that the film takes inspiration from some real-life stories and then merges them with some fictionalized elements. The story makes us realize that life is not always about the end goal; it is about the journey and what you end up experiencing in that journey. So let’s find out if there is actually an event known as the Homeless Football World Cup and if the characters of Vinny and Mal Bradley existed in real life.

Spoiler Alert

Does the Homeless Football Tournament happen in real life?

The homeless football tournament is actually organized every year, and it was the brainchild of Harald Schmied and Mel Young. They wanted to do something for the underprivileged, and they had many ideas, but they were still not convinced about what that one thing would be that would encourage society to be more inclusive. Generally, the biggest element missing from the life of someone who has lost everything is a sense of belongingness. In addition to that, there’s also a lack of purpose that makes them devoid of hope. Generally, a person living on the street does not have any family members who would have their back in times of need. The problem is that adverse circumstances made these people think that they were not worthy of doing anything in life. Generally speaking, they don’t have faith in their abilities, and they just struggle in deplorable circumstances and wait for the day when they will take their last breath. Schmied and Young thought that through their initiative they would be able to give a second opportunity to these people, something that you rarely find in real life. They were right in thinking so, and the tournament, more than anything, saved many lives and once again gave those people hope.

The Beautiful Game is a story about grit and determination. It is a story of making the most of the second chances that life bestows upon you. It is about not giving up on yourself, defying the odds, and making something out of that one life that the almighty has given to you. The game is played on synthetic turf, and each player needs to be over 16 years of age to participate in the tournament. Each team consists of 4 players, and they can have a maximum of 4 players as substitutes. 

Harald Schmied passed away in 2018, but the world, and more importantly, those people who were a part of the World Cup, would never forget what he did for them and how his noble vision connected people from all sections of society, making use of one universal language, i.e., football.

Are Vinny and Mal based on real-life people? 

The characters of Vinny Walker and Mal Bradley, played beautifully by Michael Ward and Bill Nighy, respectively, are not based on any specific person, but it could be said that their journey was symbolic of the kind of struggle and adversity the real-life players experienced in their lives. 

We saw in the film that all the players had their own share of struggles, and it was a miracle in itself that they had been able to survive them. Some, like Nathan, showed gratitude for being a part of the football team and being mentored by the great Mal, but some just didn’t want any kind of association with the word “homeless.” Vinny came to Rome to play in the homeless football World Cup, but he had preconceived notions about him being superior to the rest of his teammates. He didn’t want his kid to tell anybody that he was taking part in the event because of the fear of being judged by society. But little did he know that taking part in the event would give a new direction to his life and take him to greener pastures. One of the most humorous yet heart-warming instances came in the film when the Japanese team played their match. Their team consisted of elderly players who weren’t able to keep up with the opponent. Their coach, an energetic young girl, wanted them to win the torment, feel proud of themselves, and find that lost happiness that they had not experienced in years. But winning was not something that they craved. Instead, having the opportunity to come to such a beautiful country as Rome, being able to taste the delicious food and desert there, seeing beautiful architecture, and probably being in each other’s company nourished their souls and gave them unparalleled happiness. Their entire journey was symbolic of the fact that the homeless World Cup event stood for something bigger.

Did England ever win the Homeless Football World Cup? 

In reality, England was the runners-up in the competition in 2003, when it was organized for the very first time. They have consistently participated over the years, but as of now, they haven’t won the title. But after watching The Beautiful Game, and probably if one was lucky enough to attend the event in person, I realized that it was never about winning the title. It was about conquering the demons of one’s past life, making sure that you left your traumas behind, and, most importantly, finding a reason to be proud of yourself. In one of the most moving sequences in the film, we saw Aldar telling his teammates about how happy he felt after seeing clear skies since, from where he came, all one could see was the devastating view of bombs and missiles being launched in the air. He said that one day, when things would be fine in his homeland, he would want to go back to his old profession, i.e., being a barber. Something like being a barber was a privilege for that man, and probably that was the moment when Vinny realized how ungrateful and condescending he was in his approach. Vinny had potential, but he couldn’t make it big in professional football. He wanted to represent his country, but his dream got shattered as the competition was so tough. Some are able to deal with it and move on in their lives, but others, like Vinny, get stuck in an endless, torturous loop. At the end of the film, when coach Mal finally told Vinny that he had a lot of potential and he amounted to something, the latter felt as if somebody had lifted a huge burden from his shoulder. He never wanted any kind of association with the word homeless, but in the end, it rescued him and gave him a purpose to look forward to. The film leaves you with a bittersweet feeling, and I am very sure any individual with a conscience would never take any aspect of their life for granted after watching this film. 

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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