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Fara Williams: the English soccer pioneer who was once homeless

After England’s victory in the 2022 UEFA Women’s Euro final, many of their jubilant players rushed to the side of the pitch to celebrate with Fara Williams, who had retired the year before as one of the world’s best footballers. country.

Chloe Kelly, who had scored the dramatic game-winner against Germany at Wembley Stadium minutes earlier, jumped into Williams’ arms and hugged her.

Lucy Bronze and Jill Scott ran towards Williams, who had been commentating the game on television, with such enthusiasm and force that they knocked her onto the grass before collapsing on top of her in a heap of joy.

In what was the most significant moment of their careers, these players still wanted to pay tribute to Williams as one of the pioneers of women’s soccer who helped pave the way for them and make their victory possible.

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a difficult road

The Williams story represents much more than sporting success. It’s about overcoming hardship, tapping into incredible stores of resilience, and inspiring a generation of women.

He began playing with children on the small concrete courts of his development in Battersea, south London. “I would finish school, quickly do any homework, then it would be soccer,” he said in an interview last year. “I was out there kicking the ball around for hours until it got dark.”

A devotion to practice earned him a place in Chelsea’s under-14 team as a 12-year-old, but his mother, who raised Williams and his three brothers alone, struggled to pay for his football boots.

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For a while, Williams lived with her grandparents before returning home, but left again after a dispute with her aunt, who had moved in with her mother.

He was 17 years old and suddenly found himself homeless, either sleeping on the streets or finding temporary beds in shelters or at friends’ houses.

Despite being separated from her family and consumed by fear, Williams continued to thrive as a footballer. Her game came naturally to him and she made her first-team debut for Chelsea before making a quick move to Charlton Athletic.

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In 2001, the same year he became homeless, he made his international debut for England against Portugal. He scored his first international goal three months later.

Portrait: Fara Williams
England’s Fara Williams, right, and Germany’s Hasret Kayikci during a SheBelieves Cup match at Red Bull Arena in March 2018 in New Jersey. [Kena Betancur/AFP]

In her first season with Charlton, she was voted their Player of the Year and also won the Football Association (FA) Young Player of the Year award in 2002. After losing back-to-back FA Cup finals in 2003 and 2004 , won the FA Women’s Premier. League Cup in 2004.

By day she was a young soccer promise, but at night she returned to her hostel, where she was surrounded by strangers. She put up barriers, didn’t smile and didn’t want to talk to anyone.

“I just didn’t want to tell people,” Williams said in an interview with the BBC in 2014. “People judge who should be made homeless and who shouldn’t, and I felt like people would judge me. I put on a brave face and lived my life like a normal person would, like I was living at home.”

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Hope on your side

It was after playing a series of games for the England under-19 team that Hope Powell, who would be his manager for 12 years, noticed Williams’ reluctance to leave the accommodations of the team’s hotel.

Powell offered her support, taking her to a homeless unit, bringing her a sleeping bag and food, and meeting with her regularly. Williams now had someone who believed in her.

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Williams has credited Powell with encouraging her to improve her understanding of the game and earn her coaching badges.

Then in 2004, Williams moved north to Everton where, with the encouragement of her new manager, Mo Marley, she became a community coach.

It was on Merseyside that Williams, now no longer homeless, finally felt settled and safe and able to fulfill her potential to become one of England’s greatest players.

During eight years at Everton, the “Fara Queen”, as fans knew her, she played 122 games and scored 70 goals, helping them win the Premier League Cup in 2008 and the FA Cup in 2010. In 2009, she was voted the FA Players’ Player of the Year.

But then in 2012 he moved across town to rival Liverpool, who had just finished bottom of the league. She immediately helped turn her fortunes around, leading them to the FA Women’s Super League title in 2013 and 2014.

In the final years of his club career, he returned south for a season at Arsenal, where he won the FA Cup in 2016, before joining Reading, where after four seasons, he retired in 2021 aged 37. A kidney condition had played a role. her in her decision, but she also felt tired and knew that her body couldn’t take it anymore.

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transforming the game

It was in international football that Williams created his most lasting legacy, amassing a record 172 appearances for England between 2001 and 2019.

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Over almost two decades, he played in seven major tournaments: four European Championships and three World Cups. He was on the England team that lost the Euro 2009 final to Germany and the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup.

Williams may not have won a title in international soccer, but she helped transform the women’s game from being played on poor pitches in sparsely populated stadiums to the scenes this year at Wembley when the team she helped inspire became champions. Europe in front of a crowd of more than 87,000 people.

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