The Beautiful Game: Meet the real-life football players who inspired Netflix's film and their harrowing true story


‘The Beautiful Game’ – the latest Netflix film based on an inspirational true story, has just dropped on the platform on Good Friday. 

The Netflix film directed by Thea Sharrock tells the story of the real-life Homeless World Cup – an international football tournament founded in 2001 for homeless people. 

The rousing, inspiring, drama film stars award winning actor Bill Nighy alongside Michael Ward and Callum Scott Howells.

While the Beautiful Game makes it clear that the Homeless World Cup is real, the story line of the film is fictional – so who are the real life people who inspired the movie?

Netflix's latest release is based on the real-life Homeless World Cup

Netflix’s latest release is based on the real-life Homeless World Cup

The movie stars Bill Nighy as England's coach for latest edition of the tournament in Rome

The movie stars Bill Nighy as England’s coach for latest edition of the tournament in Rome

The Homeless World Cup was founded in 2001, with the first tournament taking place in 2003

The Homeless World Cup was founded in 2001, with the first tournament taking place in 2003

Lisa Wrightsman (USA) 

Lisa Wrightman coached the TEAM USA side multiple times after participating in the game herself as a player

Lisa Wrightman coached the TEAM USA side multiple times after participating in the game herself as a player 

The first player to inspire Netflix’s new film is Sacramento native Lisa Wrightman.

Wirghtman’s life story alone could be the base of one of Netflix’s own documentaries so it’s fitting that she features in the Beautiful Game.

The American growing up dreamed of becoming a professional footballer but her aspirations were crushed early on in life when she fell into homelessness after addiction tore her life apart.

In 2010, Wrightman’s fortunes turned around as she stumbled upon the Homeless World Cup, which offered her a way back in life.  

She would represent the Street Soccer USA team in the event in 2010 an experience she said was ‘mind blowing’ to Big Issue. 

After finding major joy from the event, Wrightsman decided to become more involved in the event. She went on to coach Team USA in some of the following tournaments and even set up a women’s coaching programme in her native Sacramento.

The pinnacle moment for Wrightman however came last year when she welcomed teams from all over the world for the Homeless World Cup in her home City. It is the first time the tournament had been held in the state in its 20 year history. 

When speaking about the Homeless World Cup and being asked to star in Netflix’s new movie, Wrightman said…

‘When Mel Young from the Homeless World Cup called to ask if some of us from Street Soccer USA wanted to be part of filming for The Beautiful Game to play the role of the USA Women’s team – we said yes immediately,” 

‘It was like a Homeless World Cup fantasy family reunion in a special place halfway across the world for us. Spending five weeks with people that you feel so deeply connected to and then spending the time on the set, in costumes, recounting all our individual Homeless World Cup memories and experiences – it was a moment in time that I was proud to be a part of. 

‘Every day we would say to each other – how did this happen? Are we really doing this and in Rome, with actors on a real movie about the Homeless World Cup?’ 

‘It felt like being a part of another Homeless World Cup. I hope the world gets to watch this magical event unfold on the big screen and join the Homeless World Cup family by supporting what the Homeless World Cup Foundation, SSUSA and so many people do day in, day out.’

Raph Aziz (England)

Raph Aziz who is originally from France, represented England at the Homeless World Cup back in 2018 in Mexico.

The Frenchman first experienced homeliness in his adopted country England when he had his passport stolen on arrival in 2011.  

Left with little choice, Aziz went to the the youth homelessness charity New Horizon Youth Centre to get their support and escape homelessness.

The 2018 World Cup came at just the right time for Aziz, allowing him to turn his life around.

‘Going to the Homeless World Cup gave me so many opportunities in terms of core values, community growth and to unlock some potential and confidence in me and then it had a tremendous impact on the rest of my life,’ said Aziz. 

‘[Without the Homeless World Cup] I would be a criminal with no prospects.’

Aziz, now aged 32, is coaching youngsters at New Horizon after he had his qualification paid for by the West Ham foundation.

Aziz doesn’t only work as a coach for the charity but he is also acts as a key worker to help them navigate the pitfalls of the homelessness system in London. 

 ‘I would be a criminal with no prospects’ 

 Raph Aziz – Homeless World Cup participant

Looking back on his past Aziz said to Big Issue that without the Homeless World Cup’s intervention in his life he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to  help other people struggling and he hopes The Beautiful Game will bring a ‘trickle-down effect’.

Lisa Gornell (England) 

A lifelong Liverpool fan Lisa Gornell represented England as captain at the Homeless World Cup

A lifelong Liverpool fan Lisa Gornell represented England as captain at the Homeless World Cup

Lisa Gornell saw a family bereavement send her into a spiral of addiction, leaving her living out of hostels.

Gornell was able to find a safe heaven with football whilst at the height of her addiction and when the Homeless World Cup presented themselves to her she never looked back.

A Liverpool fanatic, Gornell has been heavily involved with the tournament ever since she became captain for the England team 11 years ago in Poznan, Poland.

She was also a part of the England coaching team in Chile the following year and at Oslo in 2017 and helped with volunteering in 2019 for the Cardiff tournament. 

Speaking about her life journey Gornell said ‘I lived in a bubble for many years with addiction, losing my home and living in a hostel.’

‘When I got to Poland I felt like I was at home with everyone because they were in the same bubble as me. I didn’t have to pretend to be anything, I could just be myself. And I wasn’t embarrassed. I wasn’t ashamed. I felt a part of a family.’

Gornell hopes that ‘The Beautiful Game will offer people insight into the world of homelessness and addiction and change the perceptions and misconceptions the topics have. 

Sarah Frohwein (Wales)

Sarah Frohwein represented Wales as both a player and a referee at the Homeless World Cup

Sarah Frohwein represented Wales as both a player and a referee at the Homeless World Cup

The Homeless World Cup doesn’t just offer a avenue for aspiring football players to live out their dreams, but there are loads of roles up for grabs as well such as coaching and refereeing.

Frohwein has been involved in the tournament as both a player and a referee. 

The Welsh woman first experienced homelessness with her partner and one-year-old baby and it was at this time Frohwein joined Street Football Wales after the couple had came across issues renting a property. 

Speaking to Big Issue about her experience with the Homeless World Cup and experiencing homelessness Frohwein said: ‘It’s definitely given me a new life because before the Homeless World Cup and street football I had no job. 

‘I had no will to live at that time because I was suffering with miscarriages and stuff like that.’

‘Life was at a stop and it gave me that extra little boost. It gives you that hope in life that you can do things.’

‘Oslo was insane. I felt like I’m somebody. It makes you stand out when normally you’re hiding in the background.’

‘I got asked if I wanted to referee in Cardiff because the Homeless World Cup was coming to our hometown. 

‘I was like: “I don’t know about that, I’ve always been a player and referees have always been the villains.” But the training made me understand the game so much better.’

Now 33, Frohwein is a mother of two and works as an events co-ordinator for a charity suprorting people with mental health and substance abuse issues.  



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