It’s entirely possible that of the 500-plus players here in Cardiff taking part in the Homeless World Cup, Team Norway’s Charlotte Fosse is one of the few who can call herself a grandmother.
A mother of five children aged between 10 and 23, the 42-year-old works as a motivational speaker and fronts a rock band in her home city of Stavanger in southwestern Norway.
Having experienced a life to date that has been marked by addiction, abuse, an abortion, five suicide attempts, and an attempt on her life by others, through football Fosse has been able to chart a new path in life.
“In life, football has given me everything. When I came to Stavanger, I left everything I had, my house, all my things I owned where I came from, on a little island on the west coast of Norway.
“I just put myself on a bus to Stavanger and I don’t look back. And then after two days of living in a women’s shelter, I went to play football with the local team. I would sleep in the clubhouse, and I started to clean and make dinner there. I was there every day,” she said.
“At that moment I couldn’t play because I was pregnant. I was sick from having stopped using drugs so I couldn’t have another child. So I had an abortion. And I was standing at the side of the football field at every practice. And then I started working out and training and playing football as a goalkeeper, little by little, getting better and better.”
And Fosse’s decision to go in goal for her local side was one motivated by her past experiences; experiences where she suffered abuse at the hands of her former husband.
“Being in goal is great for me because I can’t run so much. And when I’m in the goal I have my space and I have to protect it. And I have control. And I like to think of being a goalkeeper as my choice, because of my past when my husband abused me and was not being so good to me.
“So when I go to my goal, I choose to be there. So the first time in my life I choose something for myself because I wanted to,” she detailed.
Football is Fosse’s ‘safe’ space, where she gets to make her own decisions. Where she helps others. Where she forgets about her past trauma.
And most importantly it fills the void she experiences as a mother to five children, none of whom live with her at present.
“It’s difficult because my kids don’t live with me and my husband. We have to go back and forth to see them and it’s hard each time we go away. So that’s where football comes in.
“Football is like a lifesaver. If I didn’t have football, I wouldn’t know what to do,” she said.
And despite not living with her children, they know their mum is representing Norway on the world stage at the Homeless World Cup. And her achievements fills her children with pride.
“They actually started playing football because I’m playing football. And they tell everybody at school that their mum is playing for the Norwegian team,” she said with a big smile.
And Fosse is doing so at a tournament that has brought together so many people from so many different countries—all united by the fact that, like her, they have suffered from homelessness, addiction, or social exclusion.
“It’s like magic being here. That’s the word I would use because it’s so good to see everyone and feel all the emotions. It feels like all the emotions are in the air. And all the smiles, and all the joy. It’s overwhelming.
“It gives me more power and makes me feel more secure in myself. Because I see all these people being here together. It’s so amazing. It’s really hard to put into words.
“I’ve been following Switzerland and also India. I’ve been trying to talk to everybody, and I’ve also been trying to just take some time to consume everything,” she said.
Let’s not forget Fosse’s teammates, who are charting their own journeys to recovery alongside her when they take to the field, and who she says share a deep love for one another.
“It’s really good. It’s like we love each other. We have been together for a long time and we haven’t had any arguments. We are open and we share our feelings—even our deepest feelings. I feel loved by my team and I also love them.
“So in the evenings before I go to sleep I write a message to each one of them to tell them how much I appreciate their friendship and what good qualities they have,” she said.
Fosse admits that she has always been a ‘helper’, and has spent her life trying to help those around her. But she has done so at the expense of herself.
“I’ve always been a helper, but I forgot to help myself. I spent so much time trying to help other people that in the end I had no power left. And now I have football.
“Being on the park is like being in a boat: you cannot go anywhere. So on the field, you’re stuck with yourself and you have to do everything yourself. And do what you love,” she said.
She encourages those who have come through difficult periods in life troubled by homelessness, addiction, and social exclusion to share their stories, to help them move forward.
“I want to tell my story. It’s like you are undressing yourself so that you are naked. And that is amazing. Because then you can stop feeling shame and start loving yourself again,” she said.
And in her role as a motivational speaker back in Stavanger, she hopes to be able to use her own experiences as part of the Norwegian team in Cardiff to help others succeed in their lives.
“I will use my own experience to show people that you can reach all the goals you want in life. In football or in something else, whatever. If you don’t have goals, you aren’t going anywhere. I’ve been wanting to come to this for along time. I’ve been working so hard to get there, and when I got selected I was so emotional. It’s been really hard.
“I know I can say, with my hand on my heart that I deserve it,” she said.
Words: Craig Williams
Images: Romain Kedochim / Soda-Visual