From captaining her team on the field to leading the dancing post tournament at the recent Four Nations Challenge Cup in Edinburgh, Northern Ireland’s Louise McConnell displays enviable energy and enthusiasm that belies her years and journey in life. 

“The players call me mumma-duck,” she laughs, “because there’s all these young ones and there’s me at 41!” 

While she might be footie mum to her team-mates, Louise is also real-life mum to six – plus dog – and has undertaken something of a mother of reinventions to her life in recent years. 

“I had a break-up in 2018,” she explains, “there were bad things going on and I left my partner of 12 years and took the kids and the dog. I was homeless and ended up in a hostel. After six months someone came round the hostel talking about Street Soccer and looking for more players so I went to training that night and that was it.

“The players call me mumma-duck,” she laughs, “because there’s all these young ones and there’s me at 41!”

“I would have played more sport when I was younger but I had a family, had six kids [aged 8, 10, 15, 19 and two stepchildren of 17 and 21] and there was never really talk of football in our house because their daddy wasn’t into football. “I just wanted to do something to keep me active – so that was the perfect opportunity for me and why I started playing.

“I’d never played football before. I wasn’t sore after that first day – I was more on an adrenalin high. It was just so nice meeting all the other girls and the team co-ordinator. I’ve made friends for life.” 

Louise was on the road to putting her life back in order – then the pandemic struck. 

“It was hard through lockdown,” she relates. “We live in a hostel and you weren’t allowed any visitors. It was just really difficult, especially with the kids at their ages. My 15-year-old has autism so it’s been especially hard for her. The eight and the ten year olds should have been out like normal kids, playing with their friends – we have a wee bit of space below the hostel – but they can’t play there on their own, I have to be there with them. They can’t have friends over, they can’t have sleepovers or wee birthday parties. It’s really hard that way in the hostel and we’ve been there three years now. 

“At the hostel I’m in there with three staff who rotated the hours they were there during lockdown. That was my only adult face-to-face conversation. I was so afraid of it [Covid] at the start as I’m on so many medications for so many illnesses.” 

With the world around her slowly returning to normal, Louise is looking forward to picking up the threads of progress with both her family and footballing lives. 

“I did my coaching badge just before lockdown,” she explains. “Street Soccer Northern Ireland brought someone in for us in east Belfast – we did disability coaching and were about to do refereeing as well but then the pandemic happened. Even though I’m not really a confident person, being part of Street Soccer Northern Ireland has built my confidence – and I always have a smile on my face now. I wouldn’t have had that three years ago.” 

Louise takes a deep breath and surveys all the activity going on around her, as eight teams from the four home nations compete in front of a supportive crowd in the centre of Scotland’s capital. 

“It’s surreal to be here,” she laughs. “I’ll look back on all this when I’m home in Northern Ireland and think it was just unreal. And my kids will be proud of me, especially my youngest boy who’s more into football now.  

“Because I have a coaching badge now too, his team are trying to get me involved – my confidence isn’t quite there at the minute but it’ll come.  

“My son’s team, the girls I play with and everyone from Street Soccer Northern Ireland – they’ve really become another family to me. And I think that’s probably even more helpful to me than the sport itself.” 

Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: Homeless World Cup Foundation & Edinburgh Photographic