Reciprocating the warm welcome they have received at the 14th Homeless World Cup in Scotland, the Cambodian team have enthusiastically been taken into the hearts of their Glaswegian hosts.
In weather some degrees colder than they are used to, Cambodia joined over 50 nations in a tournament that puts homeless people in a positive light and helps to build self-esteem and change lives for the better.
Team manager Paraic Grogan said yesterday: “They are loving the experience and the fantastic welcome Glasgow has given them. And they are superb ambassadors for Cambodia, treating everyone with respect and an open and warm heart. They are very poplar with other teams’ players and the people of Glasgow who have eagerly embraced them.”
It was in that warm and friendly spirit that Cambodia played their only Stage 1 match of the opening day on Sunday, a close 6-5 defeat to India. They were also awarded two victories as the teams from Burkino Faso and Argentina did not attend.
Cambodia arrived early at the start of the third day to enjoy some of the action. They sat, as did all the teams, among the fans, many of whom were local children enjoying their school holidays.
The crowd were treated to a competitive but friendly clash between those great sporting rivals England and Australia, which England won 6-2, and who probably received the warmest reception ever for an English football team in Glasgow.
The Australian fans needed no home support, turning up with flags and wearing Australian shirts from many sports while providing ample vocal support.
Speaking while watching a fiercely fought 5-5 draw between Northern Ireland and Romania, Cambodia coach Vibol Chao stressed the importance of the opportunity for the players to have fun. “It is most important they enjoy themselves,” he said.
When asked about the weather, he replied, to lots of laughter: “Yes, it is cold.” His young side were certainly having fun at this point, leading the chants of “Romania! Romania!” and trying to ignore the “chilly” Scottish weather, which had rather shocked them as they had been told it was summer.
With their match now upon them, the Cambodian youngsters took the field against reigning champions and No2 ranked nation Mexico. From the beginning it was difficult for Cambodia against an older and physically stronger team.
Quickly they were seven goals behind, but far from giving up they steadied, playing strong possession football and creating chances only to be denied by the frame of the goal or the excellent Mexican goalkeeper.
Even when an eighth goal was scored it was of a quality that any professional would be proud of, as the Mexican beautifully controlled the ball with a single touch before his shot rocketed past the keeper.
Much respect had been gained and the Mexicans hugged all the Cambodian players before insisting on a joint team photo. Cambodia later lost 10-3 to Indonesia but again showed great pride.
Although these were heavy defeats, others suffered far worse. Ireland thrashed Greece 15-1, and followed it up with a 14-1 win against Sweden.
The extremely talented South Africans danced and sang their way on to the pitch and then off again having beaten Austria 14-0 in between.
“It’s been a tough and steep learning curve for Cambodia. Our players give their all every game but the opposition teams are usually bigger and stronger and more technical,” manager Grogan said.
“We expect the results to improve in the coming days as the players adapt to the stadium surface, weather conditions and improve as a team.”
The end of the third day saw the completion of Stage 1 of the tournament and the teams will now play off for the various trophies.
Although expectations on the pitch were modest for the young team, they hoped to enjoy themselves, make friends and show both Cambodia and homeless people in a positive light.
“Our players are really enjoying their time in Scotland. Everyone is very friendly and kind, and they love meeting players from the other countries here. Every day they are learning something new about the world,” Grogan said.
Glasgow rolls out red carpet
In a week when Scotland’s Andy Murray won Wimbledon and golf’s British Open takes place at nearby Troon, it would have been easy for the Scots to make this a minor event.
However, Glasgow transformed the prestigious George Square, in front of the City Chambers where Nelson Mandela was made Freeman of the City, into a football arena, with three “street soccer” pitches and stands for thousands of spectators.
The host city is well known for being football-obsessed, being home to Old Firm giants Celtic and Rangers, plus the Scottish national stadium, Hampden Park, which still holds European records for largest attendances.
But it also wants the world to know that people are welcome in Glasgow and Scotland no matter their background, with a team of refugees and asylum seekers who live in Scotland taking part under a neutral banner.
A volunteer who worked with some of the players at their regular street soccer matches was proud to point out that one of the players had recently had trials with Cowdenbeath, a professional team in Scotland, although this has not been confirmed.
The eventual winners will be delighted with victory, but what has been highlighted so far is the sportsmanship and friendship of the players. With everyone showing pride in themselves and their country, it is being shown to the world that homeless people can, given opportunity, achieve great things in life.