From Homeless World Cup player to refereeing European street football final
While Wales narrowly missed out on competing at the recent UEFA Women’s Euros, they were still represented on the European sporting stage by their referees.
Welsh referee Cheryl Foster took charge of the semi-final between Germany and France, and former Homeless World Cup player, Sarah Frohwein was in action refereeing at the Wroclaw Cup in Poland.
The Wroclaw Cup is an annual street football tournament. It returned in July this year for the first time since the pandemic.
The 12th edition of the tournament welcomed teams from more than 10 nations, including neighbouring countries Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and a team made up of Ukrainian refugees who have settled in Poland.
First kicking a ball at the age of five, football has always played a key role in Sarah’s life. As a teenager she played for Wales U15s and then for Port Talbot Ladies team.
But life for the mother of two from the valleys hasn’t always been easy. In 2016, Sarah, her partner and their five-year-old daughter found themselves in a complicated situation. They’d bought a house, but the former owner refused to move out, leaving Sarah and her family in limbo for eight months.
“We had this house that we finally owned but we couldn’t live there,” she says.
“My daughter was five at the time. She didn’t understand what was happening, she was enjoying going from family to family, and having fun, being spoilt. But me and my partner knew more, it was just you don’t want to sleep on a sofa here. You couldn’t get comfortable because you didn’t know where you were going to end up next.
“It was so unpredictable, and you don’t want to put on others, because even when people say ‘stay as long as you like’ you can’t really. That was the main struggle. It’s also like what do I take with me, where do I leave the stuff?”
After finally moving into their house, Sarah faced numerous miscarriages in her attempt to have a second child.
When she found out her baby didn’t have a heartbeat at 14 weeks and was sent home with some leaflets and told to wait to miscarry, her mental health took a nosedive.
“That sent me into a bit of a spiral,” she recalls. “It all went downhill from there. Depression kicked in, I didn’t leave the house, I couldn’t go out without someone else going with me. I was suffering from a very, very bad depression and anxiety with it.
“I wouldn’t go out. I thought what if something happens? What if something goes wrong or if I fall ill due to this, so I just stayed house bound. At the time I wasn’t driving, so if I was going anywhere, it was on a bus, and my partner was working so he was out most of the time.
“My family live in the Port Talbot area and that’s about a 45-minute drive from where I am, and my sister has her own kids so I couldn’t suggest for her to come and look after me.
“It went on for about a month when I was still carrying the baby, and there was that false hope thinking ‘it’s still going to happen’ but obviously it wasn’t.
“After the baby passed, I started to self-harm. I ended up going to the mental health care ward in Port Talbot hospital.”
When she was referred to a hospital closer to home, she was told about The Dove Centre.
“I didn’t even know it was there, it’s the tiniest little building, but they’ve got amazing information and support services.”
Sarah was enrolled into a fully funded seven-week therapy course, they also supported her to access benefits while she wasn’t working.
While she was getting support at The Dove Centre, she met Becky Mullins who told her about street football and Street Football Wales. It was the first time she’d played football since she’d become a parent – donning a pair of gloves and playing in goal.
“Street Football got me back into it, you forget how much of a rush it gives you – just being in the atmosphere of it all,” she says. “It’s such a fun place to be and you meet so many different people it’s like a big family.
“Four-a-side was a completely new experience. I got into it and within the first six months I got drafted into playing at the 2017 Homeless World Cup in Oslo. It was huge, I’d never done anything like that in my life.
“[Playing for Wales] was a real privilege; you’re wearing your badge on that pitch and singing your anthem. I felt like, this is my moment, this is my team.”
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds to make the team. To prove their commitment to the side, the coach challenged Sarah and her teammates to run up Constitution Hill in Swansea to help fundraise.
“It nearly killed me!” she laughs. “Every player, male and female. At the end, he said: ‘Oh, you would have gone anyway!’ I can’t believe he made us go up there when he was going to take us anyway!”
Now she’s hung up her gloves as a goalkeeper, she’s trained as a referee.
“I never saw myself as a ref before, because I’m a bit of a softy, I’m more ‘smile and wave’”
After completing the Homeless World Cup referee training, Sarah refereed her first games in tournaments across Wales in the run up to the Homeless World Cup in 2019.
“Then it all came to Cardiff, and I felt like, oh this is getting real – and then Michael Sheen came along,” she recalls. “And I was like ‘oh no! I’ve got to ref in front of Michael Sheen – please don’t shout at me!’
“There were thousands of people there, but I was more panicking about one celebrity watching me.”
Recently she bumped into Michael Sheen in the local shops, he remembered her straight away as ‘the referee from Cardiff with the red hair’.
But she explains, “it’s good to have the nerves, it keeps you more alert because I think if I was too overly confident, I think I’d make more mistakes – if you get too cocky you end up getting it totally wrong. But the rush of it, it helps you get in the concentration mode. If you’re too relaxed, you end up missing something. Everything gets thrown off.
“It was a whole different experience being on the other side, it’s like a different type of team – you move from one family to another. I love it.”
In her own family, she is now a proud mother of two girls, having given birth to her second child earlier this year.
“Playing football gave me confidence back, it’s given me my life back. I wouldn’t be here most probably if I’d never found the four-a-side. I most probably would still be in the house now. I wouldn’t be out and about, able to go about by myself. It’s given me more freedom.”
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