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Former Northern Ireland international striker Kiera Moss lauds the impact of the homeless World Cup

Cliftonville Ladies striker Kiera Moss scooped the player of the tournament at last month's Homeless World Cup in Mexico. She talks about the benefits of playing in the competition

MAYBE it’s the caffeine in Kiera Moss’s tall Latte or the fact that she’s sitting down to do an interview with The Irish News.

Or maybe it’s a combination of both - but she doesn’t stay quiet for more than three seconds at a time.

She’s an interviewer’s dream.

The Ardoyne native is 33 going on 19.

‘Muzzy’, as her friends call her, is great company and immediately lifts the Wednesday afternoon gloom that has enveloped a rainy Royal Avenue.

A former Northern Ireland international footballer, Kiera has recently returned from the homeless World Cup in Mexico where she picked up the player of the tournament gong.

She could talk football all day.

Don’t ask her what she’s won or where she’s played during her highly decorated career because she’s a little light on detail.

Are you left or right footed?

“I’m right footed but I can play with both.”

Are you good in the air?

“Brilliant.”

Are you fast?

“Oh yeah, fast and nippy.”

Have you any weaknesses in your game?

You’re not expecting the silence but it’s welcome nonetheless.

“Weaknesses...”

Kiera mulls it over.

She finally surrenders to the question’s premise

“I suppose I could be fitter. Yeah, more fitness.”

What’s the best thing about playing football?

“Winning,” she says emphatically. “I just love winning.”

There is something endearing about her steely confidence in her own ability.

When her sister’s friend mentioned to her in passing a few months ago about playing for Northern Ireland’s homeless World Cup team, her first instinct was to say: ‘But I’m not homeless.’

Of course, homelessness is a sprawling umbrella.

The fact that she’s been living with her sister for over a year meant that the mother-of-one had amassed enough points to qualify for a place on Clare Carson and Claire Rea’s Mexico City-bound team last month.

She talked to a few people in the IFA, clicked on a link, turned up for training at Stormont and was on the plane via Dublin via Amsterdam to Mexico City a couple of weeks later.

“When I heard the World Cup was four-a-side, I said: ‘Ach, you’re having a laugh! Seven minutes each half? Ach, come on…’

She laughs at her own naivety now.

“I swear, after three minutes in the games you needed a rest, especially in that heat.”

The Cliftonville Ladies striker scored 34 goals – over half her team’s tally – during the week-long competition that saw her as a stand-out candidate for the best player of the tournament award.

Over 450 players from 42 counties participated in last month’s homeless World Cup.

For seven days, the players – the vast majority of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds – were treated like professional footballers.

“We were very, very well looked after – right down to our training,” says Kiera.

“We got all our gear, we got all the same football boots, trainers. Everyone was in matching gear.

“In the build-up, every Saturday you had your meals after training. You got picked up and dropped home in a taxi. Anybody who got into the squad was very privileged.

“In Mexico, there were three pitches, pitch one had a big screen, and there was a big tent where we had a buffet lunch each day between games, and all the locals would come in and watch the games. We had a great time.”

“The homeless World Cup is a big movement,” said the IFA’s Michael Boyd, who stepped down as Street Soccer Northern Ireland chairman at the beginning of the month.

“A lot of the teams come through charities, such as the Salvation Army. It’s a brilliant movement. It’s not really about who wins, it’s the experience. For us, a lot of our guys have never been on a plane or out of the country. It’s amazing to watch their journey and for them to see other cultures.”

The main funding comes from the Department of Communities, Housing Executive, East Belfast Mission and the IFA.

Boyd explained: “I got involved in 2009 and it totally challenged my perceptions of homelessness. There are some very smart and dynamic people that I’ve met through the projects who just through circumstance and bad luck have ended up homeless; maybe not having a family structure around them that other people are blessed with. It’s a fantastic project.

“You go into Belfast city centre now and there are more rough sleepers than ever. I think it’s a problem that’s on the rise and it’ll probably get worse with ‘Brexit’ on the horizon.”

After the Northern Ireland men’s team returned from the homeless World Cup in Chile in 2014, the-then Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon held a civic reception for the team.

“At the reception, Nichola Mallon asked one of our players what did the homeless World Cup do for him, and he said: ‘For the first time in my life, I experienced love.’ Nichola Mallon broke down in tears.

“He said: ‘People were high-fiving me and giving me hugs.’ He went on to explain that he’d suffered a lot of violence as a kid. He just opened up. We didn’t know some of this stuff and everybody was in tears by the end of it.”

With the help of the charities, being part of the Street Leagues in the north is more than just playing football.

Its participants are assisted far beyond the confines of a football pitch, whether it’s having a suit bought for them for a job interview, or purchasing some furniture for a new home, the benefits are vast.

While Kiera and her six-month-old daughter Amelia are living in her sister’s house, many of the Northern Ireland girls’ team had it tougher.

“There were girls in our team who were living in hostels and you can see how they could get really stressed out but the football allows them to off-load.

“The homeless World Cup was a great opportunity, it genuinely was,” she says.

“Some people don’t have a chance but this gives them a chance. I’ll never forget the whole experience.”

A precocious talent in her teenage years, Kiera represented Northern Ireland between 14 and 18 before losing interest in football.

When she was 18, she remembers throwing all her trophies and medals away.

“I lost about six or seven years,” she says.

“I took the head staggers one day. I got all my medals and trophies for best player, top goal-scorer and the jersey that I had signed because I scored a hat-trick against Republic of Ireland one time, put them into a black bag and threw them in a skip down the street. I just thought: ‘What’s the point of it all?’

“It was nuts, I know. If I could talk to the 18-year-old Kiera now, I would say: ‘Listen, Kiera, don’t go down that road. Stick at it. Stick at it.”

She returned to her passion at the age of 24, signed for Cliftonville and hasn’t looked back since.

At 33, Kiera still sees some bright road in front of her.

One day she wants to attend another homeless World Cup but as a coach next time.

You wouldn’t bet against Kiera Moss achieving her goal.

Before we met, the Housing Executive rang to tell her that they had a house for her and her baby daughter. They move in at the end of January.

Every day little Amelia gives her mummy all the motivation she needs to be the best that she can be.

And when her daughter’s old enough, Kiera will show her the photographs and the gleaming trophy she won under a Mexican sun.

Aim high, Amelia. Aim high.

The homeless World Cup is more than just a game…

 

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