The Remarkable Real-Life Soccer Tournament Behind Bill Nighy's New Netflix Movie “The Beautiful Game”

'The Beautiful Game,' streaming on Netflix now, highlights the real-life Homeless World Cup international soccer tournament

<p>Alfredo Falvo/Netflix</p> Bill Nighy (center) in Netflix

Alfredo Falvo/Netflix

Bill Nighy (center) in Netflix's The Beautiful Game

Bill Nighy and Colin Farrell are bringing a heartwarming sports story based on a real-life soccer tournament to Netflix.

Nighy, 74, stars alongside Micheal Ward (Empire of Light) in the streamer's new movie The Beautiful Game, which follows athletes and teams competing at the Homeless World Cup, an international street soccer tournament that brings together unhoused athletes from around the world.

In the film, Nighy plays a British soccer coach named Mal, who works with a group of homeless athletes training to participate in the Homeless World Cup in Rome. Mal recruits skilled striker Vinny (Ward, 26), who struggles to provide for himself and his young daughter, to join England's team just before they travel to the tournament, leaving Vinny to confront his childhood dreams of playing professional soccer.

Farrell, 47, was once attached to star in the film, as Deadline reported in 2021; he served as a producer on the movie instead. In quotes from the film's set, Farrell said that he first grew acquainted with the Homeless World Cup when he narrated the 2008 documentary Kicking It, which follows those who participated in the 2006 tournament in Cape Town, South Africa.

"The perceived story of our brothers and sisters living in the streets is still one of the downtrodden, but the Homeless World Cup flips that narrative on it head," Farrell said. "Through a sense of ever increasing belief in themselves and each other, our players again find a sense of belonging and inclusion and meaning in a world that too often and too quickly has turned it’s back on them."

Related: Bill Nighy Goes for Gold at the Homeless World Cup in The Beautiful Game Trailer (Exclusive)

<p>Alfredo Falvo/Netflix</p> Micheal Ward (L) and Bill Nighy (R) in Netflix's <em>The Beautiful Game</em>

Alfredo Falvo/Netflix

Micheal Ward (L) and Bill Nighy (R) in Netflix's The Beautiful Game

While the characters played by Ward, Nighy and other actors in the film are not specifically based on real people, they are inspired by the stories of those who have participated in the annual tournament since its inception in 2003 in Graz, Austria. Past real-life competitions have included athletes like Lisa Wrightsman, a former Division 1 NCAA soccer player who played at the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. Wrightman, who now works with Street Soccer USA in Sacramento, California, says "there is so much love and respect for everyone" regardless of their life circumstances at the tournament.

"You feel like you are leaving with a new family that loves, cares and respects you," Wrightsman tells PEOPLE of her experience competing at the Homeless World Cup. "There was something about waking up each morning and seeing all the players and teams first thing in the morning, knowing we would play soccer all day and end the day with everyone. [I] never felt alone once."

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<p>Alfredo Falvo/Netflix</p> Micheal Ward (L) and Bill Nighy (R) in Netflix's <em>The Beautiful Game</em>

Alfredo Falvo/Netflix

Micheal Ward (L) and Bill Nighy (R) in Netflix's The Beautiful Game

Mel Young, the co-founder and president of the Homeless World Cup, tells PEOPLE in a statement that The Beautiful Game "is about succeeding against the odds."

"The film shows the hope, sporting drama and the joy of this real-life tournament and the huge potential of people left behind by society," he adds.

Young and the tournament's late co-founder Harald Schmied co-founded the competition in 2001 after attending a conference for the International Network of Street Papers — street papers being a common means of employment for people experiencing homelessness or poverty. After lamenting that their conference did not actually include any people struggling with housing, Young tells PEOPLE that he and Schmied "came upon the idea of football, the universal language" to better help center those actually impacted by homelessness.

"You just need a ball to play the beautiful game," he says.

Related: The Best Netflix Original Movies to Stream Now

<p>Alfredo Falvo/Netflix</p> Bill Nighy in Netflix's <em>The Beautiful Game</em>

Alfredo Falvo/Netflix

Bill Nighy in Netflix's The Beautiful Game

The Homeless World Cup has been held annually since 2003, save for years postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2022. The tournament will next take place in Seoul, South Korea, between Sept. 21 - 28, with teams from 64 countries total invited to participate and separate competition pools for men's and women's teams, per the organization's website.

"It’s not really the film's job to humanize any of these characters," Farrell said of The Beautiful Game. "It’s more just an attempt to reflect the lives of a few of the players and their teammates and opposition and by doing so is a call against the process of dehumanization, which is far too prevalent in our world today."

The Beautiful Game is streaming on Netflix now.

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