Homeless for seven years: England’s greatest international

In a sporting day and age where relativity seems as important as ever, the word is missing when it comes to women’s and men’s football.

From 2015, the men’s Lions captain, Wayne Rooney, earned 260 times more than the women’s captain, Steph Houghton, in a single year; a sobering reminder for the women’s sport of the difference in opportunity. Opportunity that sees England internationals’ average annual salaries flutter around the £20,000 mark.

But, where the relativity is more baffling is looking at players such as Fara Williams. The record-holder of international caps at 150, 25 more than the male English-holder, Peter Shilton.

The debate should look at other sports; the controversy tennis has created with Grand Slam tournaments giving equal prize money to men and women, in spite of women playing best of three sets rather than five. Women in football play 90 minutes, the English women national side had to limit the crowd to 55,000 at their first showing at Wembley; the men’s side managed to just sell 40,000 when they played Norway a few months beforehand.

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The demand is there, the appeal is there and the talent is there, yet the sport is treated as a different entity to the men’s game.

And, when looking at the likes of Fara Williams in the beautiful game, the Arsenal midfielder has done far more for football than a lot of her male colleagues. A third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup, two FA Cups, two Premier League titles, plus a PFA Team of the Year Award – an outstanding CV.

Yet, the name often goes missing in a sport which has failed to bridge the gap between men and women. It has failed for years, failed to the extent where some players – not internationals – are taking home as little as £50-per-week in football. A game where the grassroots level is ignored.

Williams’ story to be regarded as one of the best in the game makes it more remarkable when you consider that the now-33-year-old was homeless for seven years; still homeless as an England international when playing at the Euros in 2005. Speaking to the Guardian in 2014, Fara described how she used to defend herself…

“I used to turn as I walked. I’d walk 100 yards and spin around. I looked mad myself. But one guy told me that, to stop people coming near them, the homeless act like they’re mad. They make loud noises to intimidate you.

I also started making loud noises if an intimidating group was near me – to make it look as if I was crazier than them.”

Fara Williams

Once then signed by Everton, Fara could not afford to travel to Merseyside, so her then coach, Mo Marley, had to pay for her travel up and down from London. It’s a sad reminder at the lack of support women footballers are receiving, which goes to the extent of a lead player having to fight the fight on her own back; void of any form of financial assistance from the FA.

Williams’ helping hand came from her Everton teammate, Amy Kane – whom she is now married to. Kane and her family took Fara in when the midfielder completed her transfer to Everton, aided by her becoming a coach.

The relentless worker has gone on to become an MBE, and a role model for the women’s sport; but her story is a sobering reminder of the lacklustre attention given to the women’s game, and the bridge which needs to be closed between the men’s national side, and their female colleagues.

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