“Everybody comes here with their own baggage and everybody has their own story”

One of the most impressive teams taking part at year’s Homeless World Cup has been the Romanian women’s side, which is making its first ever tournament appearance.

And for player Mihaela Anton, the her and her teammates’ performance on the park is reflective of the close relationship they have developed with one another, despite not having the chance to be together for long before coming to Cardiff.

“We didn’t know each other so the coach brought us together and we met when we were training and when we were practising, but I feel like we have become more and more like sisters.

“And what makes our team great is because we are so united and we are working as a team—even if we have conflict we let the conflict go and focus on the game. We are a family, and that’s all that matters.

“Every one of us has come with their own baggage and everybody has their own story. And I think that brings us closer. Like I said, we are a family. We like each other very much and we joke a lot and we laugh a lot. We are winning and we are having fun too,” she said.

As an orphan, 25-year-old Anton grew up in the small city of Pietra Neamt in Eastern Romania before moving to Sibiu in Transylvania to study.

And Anton hopes that, once she completes her studies, she will be able to draw on her own experiences growing up as an orphan to help others who have had a similar childhood.

“I finished college where I studied languages and literature [English and Romanian], and I’m looking forward to maybe doing a masters course at another school about psychology and counselling for kids with trauma or kids from orphanages because I grew up in an orphanage.

“I have that background and I know what kids are confronting. I can use my own experience. I hope I can change something in Romania or maybe in another place,” she said.

It was through playing with a team back in 2015 that she got to know the coach of her side and learn about the work of Clubul Sportiv Fotbal De Strada Metanoia in her native country, who use sports, particularly football, to enable street children, those suffering from substance abuse, and other marginalised people to gain the benefits that sports can bring.

And Anton describes the football being played at the Homeless World Cup  “a very different” experience for her, having played mostly 11-a-side in the past few years.

Prior to that, the lack of infrastructure and support for the women’s game in her country meant she would normally play with boys, something she hopes can change thanks to Romania’s performances and participation in the tournament.

“I’ve played football almost my entire life. I didn’t play for a team or a club or anything, but I used to play all the time with boys because we don’t have a lot of women’s teams. Women’s soccer in Romania is not very big. We have some teams, but like I said it’s not very big there.

“Maybe we can change something with the Homeless World Cup and when we go back people can see that women can play and we can do something to improve women’s soccer.

“We hope so. And if we win that would be great,” she said.

While Anton describes it as “an honour” to pull on the Romania jersey and represent her country on the world stage, she is also enjoying the possibility to make new friends while doing her best every time she steps on to the park for her nation.

“It’s an honour to wear the top and to have the Romania badge on our shirts, because to represent a country is a very big thing. It’s emotional and personal.

“It’s amazing how the Homeless World Cup gathers all the nations together and every country can play against other countries. It’s a competition, but you make friends and you bond with other people and that’s great.

“Even if we don’t speak the same language, you know we understand each other and playing with other teams is great and gives us an opportunity to play and show the world that football is something special,” she said.

That means that, irrespective of whether Romania go on to lift the Women’s Homeless World Cup, Anton again hopes that her team’s performances can shine a new light on the game back in her homeland, and influence not just young female footballers.

“Like I said before, even if we don’t win I hope Romania will see women’s soccer in a different way and we can open their eyes and people can come together and do events or something or fundraising or do schools for this. Not especially for women, but especially for everybody because sport in Romania is not a big thing and it’s very hard to be a very good athlete.

“I think it takes money and time but we can do it, and I hope we will see that and it can change a lot of things. I hope we can be an influence for young girls and young boys and even for players and athletes,” she said.

As someone with such a passion for the game, playing for her country on the world stage here in Cardiff is helping Anton understand that when she puts her mind to it, she can achieve what she wants to in life.

“Football has always been a part of my entire life and I like playing and enjoy it. Because when are playing, it gives us an opportunity to be together. For me it means that I can prove to myself that I can do something and I can prove to others that I can do something too,” she said.

Words: Craig Williams
Images: Romain Kedochim / Soda-Visual