Fara Williams: ‘I had football. A lot of homeless girls have nothing’
Fara Williams, England’s most capped player, is set to play her 136th international against Germany at Wembley and she tells Donald McRae how football gave her the focus and belief to overcome homelessness
by Donald McRae, 17 November 2014
When Fara Williams lowers her head and begins to cry it is as if a small door opens and the past pours out of her. England’s most capped footballer overcame being homeless for years and so there is also great strength behind her tears. Rolling down her face they are made even more moving by the composed way in which Williams had spoken for the preceding hour. Now, sitting in a room at the Liverpool Academy in Kirkby, the 30-year-old midfielder is strong enough to cry openly.
Williams has won 130 caps for England, and five for Great Britain, and she helped Liverpool secure successive league titles over the past two tumultuous seasons. On Sunday she will play for England against Germany in a significant marker of how much women’s football has developed. It is the first women’s match to be played at the new Wembley and the surprised authorities, concerned by transport problems, had to limit the crowd after 55,000 tickets were sold so quickly. England’s men had attracted just over 40,000 fans when they played Norway at Wembley in September.
England’s Fara Williams jumps with the ball during the friendly against
Japan at Pirelli Stadium in June 2013.
Photograph: Tom Dulat/The FA via
But Williams’ life is far more raw and real than mere sport. She was homeless for seven years, playing for England while reeling from one anonymous hostel to another in London. Her two worlds were kept separate and only a few people knew that an England footballer lived on the street.
Williams is calm when detailing how a family breakdown led to her becoming homeless and estranged from her mother for nine years. She starts to weep only after celebrating her mum in words shot through with typical clarity. “She’s been brilliant,” she says of Tanya, with whom she has been reunited. “It’s been lovely. You know, over time, you realise that life is short. You don’t have a long time here. So I wanted to be with her again. We’ve never spoken about what happened but the important thing is that, to me, my mum’s a hero in my upbringing …”
The happiest words burst the dam. All the previous reflections on homelessness could be easily controlled, but this is different. This is much more personal and it seems right to step outside and allow Williams some time alone. When I return she wipes her eyes. She looks very young – but the old composure and resolve have returned.
“When I was in the hostels I didn’t engage with people,” she continues. “I kept myself to myself. I certainly put a barrier up. I never smiled. I was probably quite intimidating. And when I had that wall up I pretended I was too hard to cry. I see it when I train homeless girls today. They have the same wall but the important thing is to treat them as normal people – and don’t look down on them. I was lucky I had football. A lot of homeless girls don’t have that hope. They think: ‘If it’s my income support day today we’ll use the money to buy the drugs and alcohol to get through the day. If it’s your turn to get income tomorrow we’ll use your money to buy what we need then.’ It’s a vicious circle.”
Williams, in contrast, had hope and ambition as an international footballer. “Yeah, and most homeless girls have nothing.”
Did she come close to losing that hope? “No,” she says after a pause. “Never. Football never allowed me to. I had that focus and belief I was good at something. That’s an incredible thing when it feels like you’ve got nothing else.”