She’s the Icelandic goalkeeper playing for Norway who was adamant she didn’t like football.
Ten years after moving from Iceland, Rona Jarlsdottir is between the sticks for the Norwegian side at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff and admits she’s fallen in love with the game.
“I moved to Norway 10 years ago because my son is disabled—he has autism and a lot of other health complications from that. Iceland didn’t have the healthcare he needed, so we moved to Norway after the financial crisis in 2008 to help with that.
“My friend got me into football. He saw that I was just an emotional wreck at that time and tried for two years to get me interested. I got diagnosed with MS two years ago, and I think I was just in a phase of denial where I didn’t want it all to be happening. I got to a place where I was thinking life can’t be this shit from childhood to adulthood.
“I grew up in a harsh background—surrounded by alcohol and drugs—so I needed that kick to change my entire life. It was almost like a crossroads, where you choose all the bad stuff, or you choose to live.
“With street soccer, you’re amongst so many people who have turned their lives around, and I never thought I’d say this, but it’s through them I’ve fallen in love with football.
“You get help there, even just by talking to your peers. You find fellowship because we understand what each other have been through—because it’s hard to understand if you’ve never experienced it.
“The time the Salvation Army invests in us is just immense. Nobody invests in us on a day-to-day basis otherwise. We’re the people others are warned about because we don’t necessarily look the same.
“At a tournament like this, we’re treated with respect, with dignity, and just like human beings. It’s literally a once in a lifetime opportunity—I’ve never been close to anything like this before in my life.
“We as players are in constant awe. We’ve all got single rooms on the campus. The respect is high between the players, and of course winning is amazing, but meeting players from all over the world is insane.
“Already from this tournament, I now know that I’m not alone. I’ve found fellowship and people who have gone through the same, and even those who’ve lost their children through bad choices. To face that defeat as a mother is so hard, so getting back on your feet after that is even harder because you feel like you’ve got nothing to fight for.
“So when you get this as a life experience, it gives you hope to go on and it feels like you’re sharing the journey with others who are walking towards the same thing: a better future.”
Words: David Brockett
Images: Mile 44