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Wales defender goes from novice to Neymar at Homeless World Cup

Deanne Sampson had not kicked a ball just six months ago. Now she is competing for her country at the tournament after turning her life around

The Homeless World Cup is not just for those blessed with prodigious skill like the Neymars and Carli Lloyds of this world – it is a tournament for people of all abilities and experience.

This is typified perfectly by Wales’ Deanne Sansome, who will be taking to the pitch in Oslo this week just six months after kicking a ball for the first time.

The mum-of-three from Newport had been homeless for three years after a spell in prison left her on the streets in 2013.

Before I started playing, I was drinking every day and I was having can after can of lager. Since I’ve started, I have stopped drinking completely

The transformation since then has been a rise even more remarkable than Leicester City’s run to the Premier League title a year ago.

The 37-year-old has made the switch from hostels to finally securing her own flat, reunited with her children as well as cutting out her booze addiction completely.

Deanne said: “Being involved in the Homeless World Cup has helped me with my confidence and when I think that I hadn’t played football earlier in the year – I was a netball girl at school – it’s incredible how much progress I have made so quickly.

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“Before I started playing, I was drinking every day and I was having can after can of lager. Since I’ve started, I have stopped drinking completely and started eating more healthily too. And that is because I want to try my best and do the best I can.

“I also have ADHD and I struggled to make appointments on time and things like that but because there was the threat that I would be kicked out of the team  if I missed training sessions, it has helped me get better at that too.

“Being involved has helped me to get out of hostels and into my own flat now and that has given me the chance to re-connect with my two sons and my daughter because they can come round to see me now. They have seen me homeless in the past so it makes a big difference now they have the chance to see me in my own place. They are proud of me.”

Deanne first took up the sport in March, playing for local side Solas Dragons in the Welsh Street Football League.

Her progress was so swift that just a month later she was given the opportunity to represent her country at the Homeless World Cup, pipping more than 350 women to reach the final eight and make the trip to Norway.

I cried when I got the phone call telling me that I had made the final eight who would go to Norway. It’s amazing.

And Deanne admits that the news was an emotional and important step as she turns her life around.

She said: “The turning point came when I went in to a hostel that had a local football team and I started to play for them in March this year.

“Before then, I had never kicked a ball but now I enjoy it so much, particularly playing in defence. I’ve amazed myself with how much I have improved in such a short space of time.

“In April, I was asked to try out for the World Cup team and I went up against a lot of women to reach the squad.

“I cried when I got the phone call telling me that I had made the final eight who would go to Norway. It’s amazing.

“Obviously, the coaches must have seen some potential in me and I have them to thank for that, even though it is about something that I have done myself.”

As the veteran of the Welsh side that will strut their stuff on the pitch this week, Deanne is well aware that the opportunity to represent Street Football Wales at the tournament is not one that comes around too often.

I am 37 years old and I am the oldest in the team – so it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at the World Cup

And she is keen to grab it with both hands – much like compatriots Gareth Bale and co did at the European Championships in 2016.

With Wales still awaiting their first victory at the Homeless World Cup, Deanne is optimistic that the side can make history by securing silverware in Oslo.

Deanne said: “I am 37 years old and I am the oldest in the team – so it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at the World Cup and I never expected to have the chance to represent my country at anything, not many people get that opportunity.

“We have got a good chance of doing well and we want to win the tournament if we can.”

Pictures courtesy of Street Football Wales and Rebecca Evans with thanks
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