Michael Sheen on his football obsession

He is a huge star in Hollywood and well known for portraying the likes of Tony Blair, Brian Clough and David Frost, but Michael Sheen could have been a star on a different stage… Highbury.

Back in Wales to promote Cardiff hosting the Homeless World Cup, Sheen explains that he had to turn down the chance to join Arsenal’s youth side.

He says football was a passion for him before his acting career blossomed.

“I was absolutely obsessed with playing football, watching football,” he said.

‘My Liverpool team’ and turning down Arsenal

Sheen tells BBC Sport Wales that for a long time, football was his chief passion and he hoped, future career.

“Football has played an important part in my life and at a certain point it looked like I might actually go down that road,” he explained.

“I was offered the chance to join the Arsenal youth team when I was about 12 and at that time it would have meant living in London at that age and there was no way I could do that, my parents couldn’t move so it was a case of ‘fair enough’.”

Sheen goes misty-eyed for the famed Liverpool side of the 1970s, even though he was too star-struck recently to meet one of his heroes, former Liverpool and Wales striker John Toshack.

Michael Sheen portrayed Brian Clough in the film The Damned United. His co-star Timothy Spall played Clough’s assistant and long-time friend Peter Taylor

“I lived for three years in Liverpool for my dad’s work and that was my team at that time, the Liverpool team of the mid-70s, (Kevin) Keegan, Toshack and all of those,” he explained.

“Many, many years later, when I was filming The Damned United, we had to recreate the Charity Shield match between Leeds and that Liverpool team.

“So I, as Brian Clough, was walking out ahead of the Leeds team with my Liverpool team. There they were.

“When we left Liverpool and came back to Wales, because my dad was a rugby man really, not a football man, no one explained to me that you could still support a team even if you didn’t live there.

“I just assumed when we were in Liverpool I supported that team and when we were going back to Wales I couldn’t support them anymore.

“And by the time I found out it was a bit late. So consequently I don’t have a team. Well I do, but it’s just a very specific Liverpool team.

“I was in the same room as John Toshack fairly recently and I couldn’t even bring myself to speak to him.”

Michael Sheen has played in several charity football matches including Soccer Aid

Playing football with ‘boy soldiers’

Sheen has worked hard to bring the Homeless World Cup to Wales and says football has provided him with some unforgettable experiences.

“Through Soccer Aid, which came as a result of being an ambassador for Unicef, I got to play in front of 80,000 people at Old Trafford, I had [Zinedine] Zidane on my team, it was mind blowing,” he said.

“But maybe the most powerful experiences I have had around football are through Unicef; I have been around refugee camps and I have played in football matches at refugee camps.

“I remember being with boy soldiers who could barely talk about the experiences they have been through because they were so traumatic, but you bring a football out and suddenly all that drops away and you are having a kick-about.

“It does break through the language. It is a cliche, it is a universal language, but it is absolutely true and I have seen it, I have been a part of it.

“So the power of that is something that has really stayed with me and affected me. No matter where you go, you bring a football out and suddenly you are communicating and things just change.

“I think that is a big part of the power of the Homeless World Cup.”

Homeless World Cup: Hope shines through in Oslo

Passion for Homeless World Cup project

The 17th edition of the Homeless World Cup will take place in Cardiff’s Bute Park from Saturday, 27 July to Saturday, 3 August.

More than 500 players representing over 50 countries will travel to Cardiff to play in the week-long festival of football.

Sheen, who has been instrumental in helping Cardiff to successfully bid for the event, says it can be transformative for those involved.

“I don’t care if you are Gareth Bale or you are living in a tent on Queen Street, if you put your nation’s jersey on, that affects you, it changes you,” he said.

“I remember the first time I worked at the National Theatre as an actor, I walked down the street and thought ‘this is a bit like being capped isn’t it’ and feeling quite a sense of pride.

“The fact people represent their country, often travelling abroad for the first time in their lives, being part of a team, scoring a goal for your country, it is transformative; I have seen how that has changed people’s lives.

“Our journey in life is not a straight line, it can be very messy. I have seen people given an opportunity by the Homeless World Cup and they have run with it and gone from strength to strength.

“I have also seen people motivated and then something happens and they go down a different road and then they come back again.

“But that experience has stayed with them and will for the rest of their lives.”

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