Photo courtesy of Greystone Books.
It’s not unusual for Dave Bidini to travel the world on various near-spiritual sports retreats; he’s written books on the origin and heart of baseball and hockey that have taken him to Italy, Romania, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. But finding himself travelling to Australia with some of Toronto’s homeless men and women to compete in a homeless soccer tournament is something he couldn’t have predicted.
A few years ago, the former Rheostatics guitarist/vocalist and current writer/Bidiniband frontman (and now a board member of Street Soccer Canada) happened upon the core team members that would become his travel mates while on a walk through the notorious Queen and Sherbourne neighborhood. Curious enough to pause and watch a few times as a group of them sprung to life as a game started outside the John Innes Community Recreation Centre, he eventually met the players—including Krystal, a then eighteen-year-old runaway from Regent Park, and Billy, a former pro soccer player fallen hard to addictions—and the organizers, and was eventually invited to join and document the trip.
The result is Home and Away, an instantly and tangibly compelling story of these players and their moment in the spotlight, underscored by the transformative powers of team sports. The players are often quick to dispense the linear story of their lives, revealing through their stories of addiction, mental health struggles, abuse, and financial loss, the fine line and the slippery slope most of them have travelled. Bidini’s prose and tone, warm and inspiring, doesn’t tread anywhere near hollow sympathy, and it’s clear he is invested—he’s is still in contact with some of the team members and tells us how they’ve changed: “Krystal got her grade twelve and tried out for the women’s under nineteen team, and Billy is studying to be an addiction counselor.” These successes prove a long-held belief Bidini’s. “Too much sports is better than too little sports. They’re fun, they bring people together and they’re good for you, or at least, they’ve been good for me.”
Home and Away is important; it’s incredibly humanizing. It’s a small package instigating big change to our perceptions of the people that live on our streets. As Bidini says very matter-of-fact, the shift starts small. “Just talk to them. Say hi, make contact. They share our city. They’re a big part of it.”
Bidiniband will be performing at the Justice for Children and Youth benefit show at the Gladstone Hotel on Friday, November 12. All proceeds from the event will help support programs such as Street Youth Legal Services (SYLS) and youth engagement.