When she was away with the New Zealand national team in February, Meikayla Moore’s world changed overnight.
“The incident in America – that is what I refer to it as at this point,” says the former Liverpool defender, 26. “I can laugh about it now. I’ve done a lot of work (with my therapist). He’s been amazing.”
The “incident” happened on February 20. Moore was playing against the United States in the SheBelieves Cup. Within six minutes of kick-off, she had scored two own goals. The first ricocheted in off her right foot, the second bounced in directly off her face.
In the 36th minute, Moore steered a cross into her own net attempting to clear it with her left foot. Dubbed a “perfect hat-trick of own goals”, the clip instantly went viral on social media.
“As a player, if there’s a negative consequence, you always criticise every single thing you do,” Moore explains while sitting outside Lovelocks Coffee Shop in Liverpool’s city centre. “And that was the hardest thing for me because I don’t think there’s a worse end result than scoring three own goals.
Spare a thought for New Zealand defender Meikayla Moore, who scored a perfect hat trick of own goals against the USWNT before being substituted in the 40th minute… pic.twitter.com/pqYq7gXQmk
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 21, 2022
“I shook it off after the first one. That happens. I’m a defender. I’m the person between the goalkeeper, the attacker and the goal. That can happen. I also knew we were playing one of the world’s best and that’s bound to happen sometimes.
“The second came off the attacker’s shoulder and hit me square in the face and went in. I looked up to the sky and I was like, ‘I hope this is not gonna be a thing’.
“From that point, I don’t really remember a lot. I went a bit numb and it just went downhill. Between the second and third goal, I had clearly vacated my body.
“The third one just shouldn’t ever happen in any instance. If anyone thinks that that’s how I am as a player then they can have their own thoughts. I don’t remember being in my head at that point.”
Before the third goal, Moore went up for a New Zealand corner, hoping to make amends. Instead, she remembers being taunted by fans at the Dignity Health Sports Park, Los Angeles.
“I haven’t actually talked about this publicly,” Moore begins. “We went up and I’m in there because of my height and aerial ability and the stands were actually chanting, ‘Own goal hat-trick’ and banging on the drums. It felt like it was going around the whole stadium. I was like, ‘Woah, what?’. I didn’t feel like it was real at that point. And then obviously the third one happened and I got brought off.”
Though you would not know it from her relaxed and confident demeanour — wearing her baseball cap on backwards — Moore has spent the past few months trying to rebuild herself.
“It’s just one of those freaky things and that’s what I’ve put it down to now,” she says. “I knew I could either let it define me or not. And that’s what my therapist said — I worked heavily with him on this.
“The hardest thing was that it brought a lot of the stuff I thought I was dealing with back to the fore. So then you’re faced with not only what happened but also the other stuff that you’re still trying to deal with like my own personal issues — and it was just a lot.
“I had a very tough few months and you don’t really have the time to just sit and wallow because I had to come back here (to Liverpool). I am a professional and I like to conduct myself like one always.
“It is not a small club either, so of course I was going to have extra attention on me. The club were very supportive and I’m very thankful for that.”
Moore remembers sitting on the bus after the match and deleting every app from her phone. She did not see the thousands of negative comments, many derogatory and draped in misogyny, that followed.
“That kind of incident — it is unheard of,” she says. “Nobody had been through it. I was kind of navigating with myself, my therapist and my family. And that was really, really hard.
“The social media aspect was extremely difficult. I just knew. I didn’t even want to go on them. I didn’t want to look. I knew what would be out there.”
Moore’s mum Donna, sister Danielle and close friends let her know about the positive messages she also received from fans and fellow professionals including Megan Rapinoe, Magdalena Eriksson and Carli Lloyd. Weeks later, when she was ready to tackle the mountain of notifications, she was overwhelmed by the level of support.
“Jurgen (Klopp) actually messaged me on WhatsApp,” she says. “I had done the video with him for the rainbow laces campaign and that was amazing. He’s just so personable and was not only interested in the campaign and supportive of that, but also me as a female footballer.
“After what happened he immediately reached out and said he would love to have a chat with me. We ended up having a Whatsapp video call. He rang me from his office. He just talked about it.
“I remember him telling me how it was just a freak accident and that it could happen to anyone, that it doesn’t define me and also that nobody’s gonna really think about in a year’s time or five years down the track.
“And ever since then we’ve had regular communication. He sent me a message from my birthday and I sent him a message for his today. It’s really cool. Honestly, he’s such an amazing guy. He told me that I’ve probably got the Guinness World Record. I’m going to look into that!”
She laughs. “I am a firm believer — and this is something my mum brought me up thinking — that when it’s in the past, it is in the past. I can’t change it but I’m not gonna let it define me. I’m gonna hopefully create new memories and new moments that I’m known for, rather than, you know…”
Back in Liverpool, it was about getting back to basics.
“I had to learn to love me,” she says. “People say to me now, ‘You’re like the old you; you got yourself back’.
“I don’t feel like old me. I feel like a new me — someone who has shed several layers this past year. I think it’s important to highlight that mental health space. The more you talk about it, the more it’s normalised and that’s why I have no problem saying I actually did have to reach out because, even before America, I was struggling.
“I think it’s removing that stigma with actually asking for help because it is scary. But I have learned so much about me. And tying in my sexuality I feel more set in that as well.”
A proud lesbian, Moore has been taking every opportunity to be pictured with anything rainbow-coloured during Pride Month.
“Now I’m back (online) I feel lucky to have the platform that I do,” Moore says. “And I know stuff that I post has an impact on other people, especially as an openly gay individual. I think back to when I was young, if I had some sort of representation (it would have helped me). There were people in the national team that I was aware of but they weren’t super, you know, public. That is why I am being so vocal right now with Pride Month.
*sees any form of rainbow – obligatory pic required – esp. in #pridemonth *
Side note though – I don’t take lightly that so many over the years before me paved the way for me to be able to live my truth today. Here’s to those brave #lgbtqtrailblazers 🌈 – indebted ❤️ pic.twitter.com/m65a3tAHtP
— Meikayla Moore – She/Her (@MeikaylaMoore) June 10, 2022
“Last year I posted a picture of the lesbian flag and a couple of girls from home messaged me. I was taken aback by those. I get to openly live my truth because of the trailblazers in this community. And I had people (to look to) when I was young but they were people overseas like Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris and Megan Rapinoe. But it wasn’t close to home and I think a big thing for me is being from New Zealand. It’s a much smaller nation, so if I can have an impact on kids back there then that would be very rewarding.”
Moore is due to go to Oslo to meet up with the New Zealand squad for a friendly game against Norway before travelling to Spain to face Wales. When she returns to England she will be packing up to leave Liverpool after two years at the club. A conversation with manager Matt Beard signalled the end of her time on Merseyside.
“It hasn’t gone the way I would have hoped,” she says. “I completely understand football is a business and you’re not going to be a player for every manager and it’s just how the cookie crumbles. We just had a conversation and it was like, ‘We’re not going to offer you a new deal’ and I was like, ‘OK’.”
She makes it sound easy but it hurt.
“It was hard,” says Moore. “But I’m a professional and I know that’s part of the game. I would have liked to stay, don’t get me wrong.
“I hope one day I can find an environment in a club where I can stay a few years. It’s hard moving every couple (of years), uprooting my life.
“(In the women’s game) you don’t tend to sign anything longer than two. Sometimes you sign one with the option to extend. You just never know how it’s gonna work out. But if an opportunity ever arose in the future and our stars aligned, I would love to come back (to Liverpool).”
The city has looked after Moore when she needed it most.
“The support I’ve received personally from the fans has been amazing,” she says, having received her supporters’ banner as a parting gift. “When people say it is the people that make a city, this is the case for like Liverpool. I feel very privileged to have experienced that.
“I have been very fortunate as a footballer to attend the Olympics and World Cups but I can openly and honestly say that experience is up there (during Liverpool’s post-season parade) with one of my top football experiences. It was unreal, that the support that flooded out for the boys, but we also felt like people knew about us and that was phenomenal.”
As the interview ends, The Athletic thanks Moore for her honesty.
“I have no problem talking about it because it is real life,” she says. “And life is not all sunshine and rainbows — even though my world has a lot of rainbows.”
(Top photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images)