From keepy-ups at traffic lights to starring for Chile in Cardiff

Picture the scene: On a main road in the coastal town of Quintero in Chile, the lights go red and the cars of locals on their travels from A to B stop at the traffic lights. From the pavement appears a teenage girl, ball in hand, who lets the ball drop and starts doing keepy-ups.

She’s doing so to entertain motorists for a brief second as the drivers await the green light to continue on. And she’s doing it out of necessity to earn some money for her and her family.

Money to buy boots, money to travel to train, and money to help a family who are struggling as they try to support the girl and her four brothers and sisters.

Cut to a decade later, and that girl is between the goalposts for Chile Women’s team as they take on hosts Wales at the Homeless World Cup in the leafy surroundings of Bute Park—more than 11,000km away from that busy street and those traffic lights.

As Joanna Osorio herself recalls: “The thing is that my home town was so small that there weren’t many chances for me to go out and make money, so I worked at some traffic lights, keeping up the ball, to earn some money.

“My mum didn’t have any and I didn’t want to ask my dad to give me money as he didn’t have any either. Money that would enable me to go to Santiago to train. So I started earning my own money by selling things at school and by playing with the ball at traffic lights.

“I did this when I was around 15 to around 17. A long time. I loved it. It helped me to buy things like trainers and things I needed [to play football]. And it helped pay for me to go to Santiago to train,” she said.

Using the money she was given from kind-hearted motorists, Osorio was able to make regular trips to Chile’s capital city some 160km away and escape a town where the young inhabitants’ lives were troubled by the plight of addiction and delinquency when she was growing up.

Trips that enabled her to join up with a team, and from there, earn a ‘BECA’ (grant) to go on to study at university to become a P.E. teacher.

And she thanks football for allowing her to make that transformation in her life, coupled with her own desire to change her life circumstances.

“All of that was possible thanks to football. It’s gifted me so much in life. That, alongside all the hard work I’ve put in, because it hasn’t been easy for sure.

“Without football I’m not sure where I’d be right now,” she said.

So why become a goalkeeper in the first place? For Osorio, it boils down to a mixture of her competitive edge and the fact that she was put in goal by the boys while playing on the streets.

“When I played in the street as a young girl, it was all boys playing, so being the only girl they’d put me in goal.

“Later on, I started playing as a midfielder, but there was a lot of competition, and that frustrated me when things didn’t work out. And me being so competitive that I hate losing, I put myself in goal so the other team didn’t score, and from then on I played as a goalkeeper.”

Despite being so competitive, here in Cardiff has also helped Osorio see a different side to the game, one that is proving to be the real highlight of her time here.

And Osorio herself has been recognised for her efforts in promoting fair play as the recipient of the FIFPRO Fair Play Award on Day 4 of the competition. She was awarded it after being spotted giving pointers and tips to the goalkeeper for the Street Football United team on the training pitch between matches.

“Normally between teams rivalries exist both on and off the pitch. But not here. We play a game and when that finishes we hug each other. I’m not sure you could say the same about the World Cup or the Champions League. And that is the best part of being part of this event,” she said.

Off the field, the 27-year-old and her teammates are enjoying spending time in a city, with its dragons and castles that she thought “only existed in the films I watched as a young girl”.

And alongside the lack of rivalries off the pitch, the lack of prejudice and discrimination between players of so many different nations is something that has also made a deep impression on her.

“Here it doesn’t matter your shape, how tall you are, who you are as a person, or how you eat. Not at all. Everyone is equal and that has made being here one of the best experiences in the world. Off the pitch we are all as one,” she said.

And while Osorio hopes to one day tell her future kids (“when I have them”) about her experience here at the Homeless World Cup, taking part in the tournament has also re-asserted something she has learned over the years playing the game she loves so dearly: “The best people I’ve met in my life have been thanks to football.”

Words: Craig Williams
Images: Daniel Lipinski / Soda-Visual