"The possibilities a ball can create."

By Leicy Santos

As part of a new series, we trace the origins of footballer's love of the sport through their connection to a football - with the belief that a football can change lives. 

Since 2021 adidas is pledging 1% of global ball net sales to Common Goal. Working together to change lives through football. For more info head to adidas football collective. 

When I was growing up my brother always had a football. He’d get it from my parents and I would always get housekeeping toys.

I never really liked them so, from time to time, I used to steal my brother’s ball.

He hated when I did that.

He used to say: “what are you going to do with a ball?”

That’s how it was back then.

I used to ask my parents: “Why won’t you get me a ball instead of these things?”

But it didn’t change. The only person that got it was my grandmother.

She would give me the 500 pesos to buy one of those plastic balls but, living in a village, the ball would always get damaged and go flat so I’d have to go back to fighting with my brother for the ball.

Those are my earliest memories of playing. Later I had one of the adidas Tango balls – the classic black and white one – and I used to kick that barefoot all day but first it was the plastic ones.

It’s difficult to say what made me want to always be kicking a ball. When you’re a child you play the games you like. Because they make you happy. Because you’re having fun.

And that’s what football caused in me. Happiness. Fun. And a desire to always play.

It’s like an affinity that you find with the ball that is difficult to express. How can you have such a connection with an object?

It’s easy to have it with a person but with an object? It’s like you see the ball, and it still happens to me, and the first thing you want to do is take that ball. Control it with your feet. I know it sounds super strange but at the same time it can be very beautiful.

The memories I have from playing back then are all about the village and make me think today about how important it was to have a safe space to play.

At school I was very reserved about this playing. I think the simple fact was that I didn’t really feel like I was in a safe environment, it wasn’t my comfort zone, and it wasn’t a space where I felt completely secure playing.

I thought people would be judging me as a girl playing football.

At break time I was always the first one at the pitch but it was only ever to watch the boys play. I would wish I could too but I never entered the pitch.

In my village though it was the opposite.

That was my safe space.

Everyone was used to me playing and everyone knew that they could find me wherever the football was.

Mostly I would play on a dirt pitch. I loved playing there – especially when it rained. It was a place I could really let myself go and always later, when the euphoria had gone, I’d be covered in scratches and cuts on my legs and knees.

It didn’t matter to me though. Looking back now I don’t get how I was not conscious of the danger of playing barefoot on a dirt pitch in the rain with the stream carrying all kinds of things onto the field.

But I was just happy playing. Practicing with the ball at my feet.

One thing I do now in my village is, at Christmas, I usually give myself the task of getting these balls for the kids. There weren’t so many people willing to give me a ball as a kid and there was no way for me to afford it so now I make sure the kids have those balls and can play like I did.

It’s amazing the possibilities a ball can create.

And a ball mixed with a safe space to play is something really special.

Without those early opportunities to play, without a ball and a pitch, I would never have made it. They were responsible for the moment that really set out the path for my life.

I remember when I was 12 and I went to watch a training session for the national team. At the end of the session I stayed behind and I took the ball and just began to juggle with it.

The same as I did in my village. On my pitch. In my house.

It was there that a scout saw me and said: “Do you want to be somebody in football?”

Of course I said Yes! And that’s how I got the opportunity to go to Bogota and train.  

I often think about this moment as the moment my life changed.

But really it was all of the moments with the ball at my feet that led me there. And it was all because of those plastic balls and being able to play.

If I can hope for one thing, then it’s that the journey is easier for the next generations. That girls have the opportunity, equipment, and spaces to play.

That’s why I joined Common Goal initially and now that I see the movement growing, that I see more players joining, and that last year adidas also joined, I have the belief that we can accomplish great things.

It makes me proud to know that we are working together to tackle gender inequality in Latin America. With all of us working together I would like to think we can build structures that can help generations to come and transform the sport.

And the fact that we are all walking this path together makes me confident that we will succeed.