Clubs, players and fans take part in 'Football Welcomes' weekend

By agency reporter
April 21, 2018

Sixty football clubs, including 12 from the English Premier League, as well as players and celebrity fans are backing Amnesty International’s second Football Welcomes initiative this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugees make to the beautiful game.

Football Welcomes, a weekend of activities which kicks off on Saturday 21 April 2018, is also supported by the English Football League, FA Women’s Super League, and non-league and grassroots teams across the country.

It took place for the first time last April, on the 80th anniversary of the arrival in the UK of a group of child refugees from the Spanish Civil War - evacuated to the UK after the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937 – who went on to become some of the first refugees to play professional football in the UK.

Naomi Westland, Amnesty UK’s Football Welcomes Manager, said: “It’s wonderful to see even more clubs laying aside their rivalries this weekend and coming together to say refugees are welcome here. At a time when politics is often dominated by hate-filled and divisive rhetoric, this shows that there is another story to be told.

“Footballers with a refugee background have been making their mark on professional football in the UK for many years, with many playing at a national level for their adopted country or country of origin. Football clubs are at the heart of their communities and have a vital role to play in helping people who’ve fled conflict and persecution settle in to a new country and culture.”

The clubs participating in Football Welcomes – including Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham and Reading men’s and women’s teams, and Crystal Palace, West Ham, Glasgow Celtic, Derby County and Brentford men’s teams – will be putting on various activities and events over the weekend to show their support for, and solidarity with, refugees. 

In Norfolk, school children have sent questions to Norwich City midfielder Mario Vrancic for a video interview about his family’s experience of fleeing Bosnia when the Balkan conflict erupted in the early 90s. Sixty-one local schools and nearly 20,000 children participated in ‘Norfolk Welcomes – Football Welcomes’ on Friday (20 April), when normal lessons were suspended and the children spent the day learning about migration to East Anglia and the role that football can play welcoming refugees.

Mario Vrancic said: “It was clear the war in Bosnia was coming and we had to leave to find safety. My entire family went to different countries. The hardest thing was leaving my grandparents behind and trying to start a new life in a new country.”

On moving to Norwich at the start of this season, he said: “People here have been really friendly and helped me adapt to this city.”

Premier League participation

Newcastle United and Southampton are hosting stadium tours, while the West Ham Foundation is putting on a morning of football activities for young refugees and asylum seekers living locally. Leicester City is supporting weekly football sessions, organised by the charity City of Sanctuary, with a coach, equipment and free tickets to games when possible. They will be celebrating Football Welcomes together on Saturday with football activities for around 40 refugees and people seeking asylum. Tottenham will be welcoming a group of Syrian refugees to their game against Watford on April 30, and Swansea City has invited a refugee family the club has been supporting to their game against Chelsea next weekend.

Arsenal, Stoke City and Everton all work with refugees through their foundations or community trusts and will be promoting Football Welcomes online or in match programmes, as will Watford.

Former Everton winger Steven Pienaar said on a recent visit to a weekly football session for refugees and people seeking asylum run by Everton’s community trust: “After having been through so much, fleeing war and persecution, then arriving in the UK facing a new language and culture, these sessions give people a chance to forget about their troubles for an hour or so, to make friends and feel part of the community. I’m really pleased my club is taking an active role in this and sending a clear message that Everton FC welcomes refugees. I was born in apartheid South Africa and I know how sport, including football, can help to bring people together and break down barriers. I’m really proud that Everton is taking part in Amnesty International’s Football Welcomes weekend.”

Crystal Palace’s foundation, Palace for Life, will be releasing a short film about a young Afghan refugee who has taken part in one of their community schemes this weekend, while Huddersfield Town have invited refugees and asylum seekers for a training session followed by a match and tickets to their next home game against Everton on 28 April.

FA Women’s Super League participation

In the FA Women’s Super League, Durham Women, Reading Women and Spurs Ladies have all invited refugees and people seeking asylum to their games this weekend, and players on those teams as well as Everton Ladies, Sunderland Ladies, Bristol City Women and Aston Villa Ladies will be warming up in Football Welcomes t-shirts. Aston Villa will also be producing a short video featuring Liz Ejupi, one of their players with a refugee background, while some of the Chelsea Ladies squad will be promoting Football Welcomes online.

England defender, Anita Asante, who spent four seasons with FC Rosengard in Malmö, Sweden, before re-signing for Chelsea Ladies this year, said: “During my time in Malmö I was fortunate enough to meet and interact with refugees from all over the world, so for me this weekend holds so much importance.”

Scottish Premiership participation

Glasgow Celtic will be offering free tickets to their next home game and a stadium tour, while Rangers are also putting on a stadium tour. In Edinburgh, Big Hearts, Heart of Midlothian’s community trust, will be handing out Football Welcomes stickers and leaflets and promoting the initiative online.

English Football League participation

In the English Football League on Saturday, Brentford are at home to QPR, Barnsley are at Leeds and Derby County are at home to Middlesbrough – all will be holding matches for refugee participants in their community programmes, followed by tickets for the game.

Amnesty Ambassadors the Kaiser Chiefs said: “Football is an international language that almost everyone connects with. Displacement of people is a massive issue in the world today and we all have a role to play in welcoming and showing solidarity with people who have had to flee their homes.”

Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Bradford City, Cambridge United, Forest Green Rovers, Hull City, Rochdale, Oxford United and Sheffield United are offering free tickets, while Reading have invited local refugee team Sanctuary Strikers to their game against Ipswich Town next weekend. Notts County Football in the Community are putting on a stadium tour for refugees and people seeking asylum who participate in their weekly football sessions.

Shaun Harvey, EFL Chief Executive, said: "The EFL is once again proud to be supporting Amnesty International's Football Welcomes campaign which champions the lasting contribution refugees have made across our professional game.

"EFL clubs are at the heart of 72 communities across England and Wales and play a vital role in promoting integration, so I'm delighted to see so many showing their support and extending a warm welcome to refugees."

Non-league participation

In non-league football, Bath City, who play in the National League South, are inviting refugees and asylum-seekers to their next home game, and to enjoy a tour of the ground, while Leyton Orient have offered free tickets to this weekend’s game against Wrexham.

Ken Loach, I, Daniel Blake and Looking for Eric director and Bath City FC fan, said: “As a community-owned club, we will certainly play our part in this campaign. People leave their homes through fear, desperation, hunger or war. They need our support and to know they are welcome. A shared passion for football can bring us together.”

Meanwhile, refugee teams Nations United in Chichester, Plymouth Hope, Revive Refugee FC in Manchester and Leeds-based football project Yorkshire St Pauli, will be taking part in Football Welcomes with games and tournaments this weekend.

History of UK refugee footballers

From the group of Spanish Civil War child refugees who sailed from Bilbao to safety in Southampton in May 1937 and went on to play for Southampton, Wolves, Coventry, Brentford, Cambridge United, Colchester United and Norwich City in the 1940s and 50s, to former Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba whose family escaped persecution in Zaire (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo) in the 90s, and the likes of Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Chelsea’s Victor Moses, Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Manchester City Women’s Nadia Nadim today, footballers with a refugee background have been making their mark on the most popular game in the world for decades.

* Amnesty International


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