While representing their countries at the Homeless World Cup, it’s hard for players not to get caught up with the pressure they place themselves under on the pitch to try and secure a victory for their team, at the expense of enjoying the moment.
Swedish player Natalie Benneteg has only recently really started to appreciate the true spirit of the tournament and its ethos, one where winning takes second place to competing and having fun.
“When I first started playing it was all about winning for me, and I felt upset when I didn’t score. But I think it was yesterday or the day before when I just kind of dropped that and realised why I am here. That’s much bigger than scoring a goal. And then it became much more fun. I started to play more from the heart.”
This is a mentality that the 31-year-old from Gothenburg has always had in her everyday life as well as on the field, although her love of football is relatively recent.
“Actually, I played handball when I was younger up until I was around 14. So I wasn’t really a football fan. Normally as well I have to be the best at everything I do, otherwise I stop doing it. But now it isn’t about being the best — it’s about relationships and fun. Things I’ve learned thanks to football.”
Benneteg started playing football while addressing her problems with drug dependency, joining the training sessions offered by the Gatans Lag organisation in her home city. Sessions she still attends three times a week.
“I was in a 12-step program for addiction problems. I’m an addict. I started talking with people and they told me about the street soccer programme in my local area and the help they give to people who want to get out of addiction and criminality and things like that.”
And with her effort and dedication to the national programme — and to changing her life — leading her to competing in Oslo as part of the Swedish side, now that she is here, she doesn’t want her experience to end anytime soon.
“I think I will feel a little bit empty when the tournament ends. I could stay here and only play football! But I will take it with me and go back home with a smile. I’m really going to remember it for the rest of my life.”
Words: Craig Williams
Images: Ole Christian Eklund