With a smile as wide as Carmarthen Bay and displaying limitless energy to compete for every pass as she represents Wales Women at the Four Nations Challenge in Edinburgh, it’s easy to believe Sharie Messer as she says, “When I’m at my happiest is when I’m on the pitch playing football.”
But life wasn’t always like this for the 26-year-old from Swansea who lauds the sport and her involvement with Street Football Wales for saving her soul.
“I was picked on in school when I was younger and just felt everything was pointless,” she quietly relates. “So many times I’ve gone downhill. Then I really went downhill when I lost my granddad.
“He was a big presence in my life, a big support for me. I can’t really think what my lowest point has been – most of my life has been my lowest point – but my granddad passing away was the one that really pushed me downhill. He fostered me when I was younger so he was like a dad to me.”
Sharie became involved with Street Football Wales (SFW) through an organisation called SYSHP (Swansea Young Single Homeless Project) while battling the worst of anxiety and depression.
“I was so low, I didn’t think I was worth anything, to be honest,” she says. “There was a football team called Tigers and some of the people at the project were trying to persuade me to play for them. I’d never played football before – I was constantly inside because of my anxiety and depression, I felt I didn’t belong anywhere, so didn’t get involved or play anything.
“But once I’d taken that first step, I was on that pitch playing. It makes me nervous, still, when I first go on the pitch but once you’ve started kicking the ball, everything just focuses on that ball and not the people around you. The adrenalin kicks in so you don’t think of other stuff that’s going on in your life – you just think of the pitch, the ball and those goals.”
Having now been involved with SFW for going on five years, she is confident football is, to a major extent, an antidote for her feelings of anxiety and depression.
“When I have a low day I’ll ask my brothers to come for a kick about, or I’ll ask my support worker if we can go and just boot about the ball and the feelings just lift away.”
“If it wasn’t for Street Football Wales I wouldn’t be working either – now I work in a care home. I’ve been involved with Street Football Wales for over four years but I never thought I’d get this far. But with the support I’ve had from Caitlin and Scott [SFW coaches] I’m here and it has been marvellous.”
Though she has plenty of support on the ground, Sharie is in no doubt she has that extra bit of encouragement coming from higher sources.
“My grandad is always watching me and he’d be so proud of me.”
She reaches into the neck of her bright red Wales shirt and unwraps her fingers to reveal a tiny object glistening in Edinburgh’s afternoon sunlight. “I carry this cross with me so he’s always with me and that’s how I cope with the depression and anxiety. And you just try to find those friends, like I have with the girls here, and that’s how you cope and keep going with that support around you.
“I do feel more positive and then at odd times I don’t – there’s some pros and some cons but you’ve just got to work with the team. We’ve got the support, we’re sorted, so we’ll be just fine.”
Words: Isobel Irvine
Image: Nigel Whitbread