Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia set for mission to Rio

Cambodia set for mission to Rio

Cambodia set for mission to Rio

Scottish football coach Jimmy Campbell has been busy conducting weeky training sessions with the six local boys selected to represent Cambodia at the upcoming Homeless World Cup in Brazil

Coach Jimmy Campbell (left) speaks with his players during a training session at Boeung Keng Kang school Saturday. Sreng Meng Srun
List of previous winners of the Homeless World Cup with the host city and country.
Graz, Austria
2004: ITALY
Gothenburg, Sweden
2005: ITALY
Edinburgh, Scotland
2006: RUSSIA
Cape Town, South Africa
Copenhagen, Denmark
Melbourne, Australia
Milan, Italy

Brazil is unquestionably the home of football, and this September the world renowned Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro will offer the perfect setting for the staging of the 2010 Homeless World Cup. The weeklong event welcomes 64 nations from all five continents to compete in two rounds of round-robin matches before a final grouping decides who will claim one of the six trophies on offer for the winners.

Leading the six-strong Cambodian men’s team to Rio is Scottish born coach Jimmy Campbell, who regards Phnom Penh as his second home and football as a way of life.

As the head coach of Happy Football Cambodia-Australia (HFCA), an Australian registered charity organisation, Campbell has been putting the Cambodian team through its paces at the Boeung Keng Kang School playgrounds every weekend in preparation for their second tilt at this globally acclaimed event, in what promises to be the thrill of a lifetime for the young players.

Last year Jimmy took the side to Milan, Italy where Cambodia’s performance against Belgium drew particular praise, prompting the Homeless World Cup President Mel Young to declare “the tremendous spirit brought by teams like Cambodia, Phillipines, Spain, Belgium and Japan is what makes this event so special”.

Campbell recalled his “amazing experience” in Italy last year. “I was struck by the great camaraderie among players,” he remarked. “That emotional bonding was so real, so giving. I can say almost overnight boys became men. Without the fear of contradiction, I can say it was a life-changing event for these players.

“The benefits from a trip like that may not be much in football terms, but in areas of personality building and better understanding of the world there is none to match an initiative like this,” Campbell noted.

The coach noted that his priorities lie in looking after his players and making the most out of their trip, rather than concentrating too hard on getting good results.

“It is better to lower our expectations [of success],” he expressed. “Of course we want the side to do well. But at the same time we want these players, who have been weighed down by circumstances rather than choice, to see and feel what the rest of the world is like.

“Basically you need to get down to skills and ideas and matching expectations when you are dealing with players like these,” he continued. “Yes, footballing aspects are important, but overall they may play a secondary role in the context of that global audience and stage.”

Despite their troubled upbringing, Campbell said he will not be granting them leeway on their efforts on the pitch. “There is no special dispensation, pity or sympathy. I treat them just like any other player. Of course I am compassionate, but you cannot walk around with compassion all the time.”

Campbell is no stranger to Phnom Penh. Ever since he set foot in the Kingdom back in 1995, he has been a part of its collective football consciousness. He was among the first to organise an inter-schools tournament involving eight teams for the FCC Cup, raising a healthy sum in the bargain for the sake of football.

Career-wise, Campbell admittedly has been into several things. From his humble beginnings in the building industry to his passionate involvement with the hospitality industry, the Scotsman has been a man of many talents - a well regarded Salsa DJ being the most notable. Yet the one common thread in his life has always been football.

“I started playing when I could walk and kick a ball,” remembered Campbell of his days growing up in football-frenzied Glasgow. He went semi-professional during his playing days, but never got the break to go full-time pro. He trialled with such storied teams as Dundee, Motherwell, Charlton Athletic and Northampton Town. In those salad days, a defining moment was when he shared the pitch with his childhood hero, Manchester United legend Geroge Best.

A Cambodian player dribbles round a training cone as coach Jimmy Campbell (left) watches on Saturday. Sreng Meng Srun
A high ball force the goalkeeper to practice his leaps and stretches ahead of September’s Homeless World Cup in Rio. Sreng Meng Srun

Campbell’s footballing fortunes changed course when he decided to pack his bags for Australia. Since football had never been out of his sights or mind, he got into the New South Wales State League, a stint with the Paramatta Eagles being the highpoint. Yet Campbell, for the first time in his playing career, was dealt an unexpectedly harsh blow. He picked up serious injuries which left him so badly “disillusioned” that he sought a deliberate break.

“I took a couple of years off; to think again and assess where I stood,” Campbell disclosed.

A return to the field was short lived, and Campbell eventually pursued a career in coaching. The odyssey took him to Europe and UEFA’s B level coaching certificate which helped him fine-tune his own skills as a competent tactician.

Campbell’s return to Cambodia three years ago was marked by an interesting twist. News had passed that a former Inter-Milan coach was helping out the HFCA and was looking for qualified coaches. Once the line of communication was established, the job was Campbell’s for the asking. He had the credentials and, more importantly, the determination.

Today Campbell, as the head coach at the HFCA, has a team of eight assistants to oversee a coaching programme that spreads among hundreds of under-privileged boys and girls.

Jon Regler, a well known coach from Oxford, England is embarking on a 100-mile walk from London to Edinburgh next month to raise money for the Rio Homeless World Cup. Not to be outdone, Campbell is organising a fundraising tournament, the Phnom Penh Post Charity Cup, to be held at Kidzcool on August 7.

The six-member Cambodian team is made up of Yang Vanny, 19, Loat Chorbb, 23, Chun Keo Rith, 18, Han Sithyrith, 16, Thavry Chory, 20, and Chak Sovannara, 17.

Cambodia currently places number 52 on the official Homeless World Cup ranking list, with the top ten countries including Ukraine, Portugal, Brazil, Poland, Nigeria, Scotland, Ghana, Ireland, Russia and England.

As the world’s attention shifts from Johannesburg to Rio, the Copacabana beach has been a beehive of activity. A street soccer stadium with three pitches holding a crowd of nearly 5,000 is being built with the Statue of Christ the Redeemer on the Corcovodo Mountains serving as an idyllic backdrop.

A recent survey among the participating nations revealed that close to 30,000 homeless players were vying for a chance to play in the firm belief that “a ball can change their lives forever”.

The French capital Paris has been awarded the 2011 World Cup with the Polish city of Poznan given the 2013 rights. The 2012 edition has been kept open for a country from the Asian region to host the event.


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