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Homeless Soccer Draws Ukrop, Nike and Filmmakers

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It was before 10 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday morning, but Barrington Staton and Sharon Aldridge had already secured a beer and good seats for the game.

They watched as a group of people set up a plastic arena to hold a soccer clinic for the homeless across the street from the Daily Planet, a homeless services nonprofit near Virginia Commonwealth University. Organizations involved with homelessness typically help with job skills and education, the thinking goes, but sports gives people a network, self-esteem and exercise.

Still, Staton was skeptical.

"This is a homeless expedition," says the former Marine. "Just to say that we are doing something for the Daily Planet. Just for show. Just for show." If Staton is a little salty, it may be because the Daily Planet has barred him and Aldridge from receiving services there for allegedly unruly behavior.

It's hard to argue that it's not a spectacle.

For starters, the event features the Cann brothers, Lawrence and Robert, fit and good-natured, both St. Christopher's graduates living in Charlotte, N.C., and running a homeless soccer program through the Urban Ministry Center, a homeless-services agency. Their local Charlotte team competes in a regular recreation league.

"I didn't really prepare them for success," Lawrence Cann says. "People start throwing elbows. No one wants to lose to the homeless guys."

Organized homeless soccer has been growing worldwide. Five years ago the Homeless World Cup was established, and this year, America's homeless soccer championship will be held in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Nike and featuring a particularly ferocious Los Angeles team that recruits stylish players from a shelter for homeless Hispanic teenagers, Cann says.

The homeless soccer phenomenon is also attracting the attention of documentary filmmakers who made the movie "Kicking It" about the 2006 South Africa World Cup.

"Kicking It" screened April 29 as part of the Tribeca film festival in New York. The Canns, after attending the screening, stop off in Richmond on their way back to North Carolina.

Joining the entourage is Arcady Tiurin, 45, who coordinates a street league in Russia and also appears in the movie.

Because one movie isn't enough, apparently, Michael Pickett, another documentary filmmaker in oversized sunglasses and undersized jeans, and his crew are tagging along to make another film.

"We've been following them since Copenhagen," the site of last year's homeless world cup, Pickett says.

Pickett laps up every detail of setup and instruction while the Canns' grandmother, wearing a green suit and alligator-skin flats, watches from the sidelines with a clutch of local social workers who come out to cheer.

Rob Ukrop even shows up in a track suit with a fistful of free Kickers' tickets. The players, 14 in all, are in good spirits heading and passing the ball, a few playing in steel-toe work boots that another homeless organization had given out during the winter.

Staton eventually joins in but takes a breather after the first round while he and Aldridge, wearing free denim baseball caps, flipped backward, munch on candy from the giveaway table.



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