As a group we are so lucky to have active supporters who are willing to use their influence to help people seeking sanctuary.One such supporter is local Powys resident Gareth Davies , senior Coach Educator for the Football Association Wales, who has helped us to make professional football matches accessible for those people who live and breathe football and yet have no money to be able to watch live matches . ( living on less than £38 a week leaves little room for anything but the basics and yet interest and participation in sport promotes better mental and physical health ) On this occasion Gareth recommended us to Newport County who had a good run in the FA cup this year when on 27 January 2018 they achieved a creditable 1–1 draw to force a replay at Tottenham’s temporary home ground Wembley Stadium. The draw marked the first time Spurs had failed to beat a fourth-tier team since a draw at Hereford United in January 1996 (coincidentally the team we went to watch last year!)
Newport County, who are nicknamed ‘the Exiles’ ( perhaps a particularly fitting team to support for people who are exiled from their homes and seeking asylum in Wales) have a ‘County in the Community’ team who in addition to offering us 53 free tickets to watch a match also arranged for a pre-match Kick About mini-football tournament on the grass (located inside the stadium near the fanzone).
Immediately after we heard from Hayley Ford, Media and Engagement Manager at ”The Exiles’ we contacted our friends at the Newport Sanctuary to see how we could link up Swansea people with those in a similar situation in Newport. Mark , Claire and Sarah who are project workers and volunteers at the Sanctuary Project were keen and willing to facilitate and with their help and direction we were able to arrange for a group of 30 Swansea based football enthusiasts( and Wayne) to meet at the Newport Gap Centre with a similarly sized group from Newport who also seek Sanctuary. Mark arranged that we’d meet up for soft drinks, and a chat, walk over to Newport’s ground for the participative games , have a meal at the Gap Centre and then return to watch the match.
At the time this was planned we were hoping for fine weather but the subsequent torrential rain failed to dampen the spirits of the football enthusiasts who took to the practice pitches and played a number of short matches in full view of the wonderfully warm, dry and welcoming Family Zone marquee. A team of enthusiastic Football development staff arranged the games with 4 separate mixed teams of 7 aside playing against each other for a total of about 45 minutes. Football was undoubtedly the winner as some tremendous acrobatics with goals flying in from all angles were watched by a few intrepid enthusiasts out in the rain and by about 40 dry people from the marquee. Regular County Supporters chatted whilst they watched and waited for their big match and seemed pleased that disadvantaged enthusiasts were being helped and welcomed. The lack of kit didn’t deter anyone although later on a few were a little worried about sitting outside to watch the professional match in wet and muddy clothes. This too was solved by the Gap centre finding some spare dry clothes for those in need who were not too fussy about sizes and shapes.
A filling and nutritious meal made and served by volunteers at the Gap, with cakes provided by HBTSR, warmed and fed people who were then ready for the match between Newport County and Accrington Stanley. A famous victory for Newport over table topping Accrington sealed a perfect day.
All thanks to Newport County staff and County in the Community team for making this day possible, to Newport Sanctuary staff and volunteers for the support, warm welcome and food and to Wayne, volunteer support worker with Swansea Asylum seeker Support group and volunteer Jonathan who accompanied the Swansea based men. Thanks also to Bluebird Coaches and Stuart for their support as always.
Many of the Swansea group play for or support a newly formed team called Kush made up of men seeking sanctuary in Swansea which is enjoying success in the league that it plays in.
And unbeknownst to me when arranging this Amnesty International had their ‘Football Welcomes’ National campaign running over the weekend before – see here
Some comments from the Swansea based people help to show the significance of this fantastic day:- Mr D from Eritrea. I enjoyed visiting Newport for the first time, I met some new friends from my country at the Sanctuary project. I was very excited to see a football match for the first time in the UK.
Mr H from Kurdistan. I really enjoyed playing football with everyone. I made some new friends and seeing a new place was great. Newport played very well and won, a good team.
Mr B and Mr T from Sudan. We enjoyed everything today, the food, playing football and watching the match. The people are very kind to make trips like this for us. Thanks so much
Mr A from Sudan. We enjoyed everything today, so many things to do, playing football in the rain was a bit cold but good fun and The Newport game was great. Nice to meet my friend at the Sanctuary.
Mr D from Ethiopia. I always enjoy the trips to villages and the beautiful countryside but today was very special for me. I love sport and I really enjoyed playing and the watching the match. I really liked going to the community group, the people were very friendly and positive. Thanks very much to everyone
Everybody says the standard of football was very good, some joked that they were asked to sign for Newport but they turned them down!
from Newport County
I hope the group had a good time last night at the Newport County AFC. I was in Swindon until 6pm but did catch 20 minutes of them playing in pouring rain and their enthusiasm was tremendous. I deliver the Clubs Match Day Visit so had to meet Albion Rovers Girls yesterday at 6.30pm and chaperone them until 10pm, otherwise I would have spent a bit more time with the group.
Having just spoke with the Community Staff Danielle & Liam who oversaw the Football matches they said they were a lovely group and had some good players. I did send all the staff home at 6.45pm last night because they were soaked through and i can’t afford to have them off sick ha ha. Cheers and if ever we can help in the future please ask and we always try. Norman
Great to see a successful and enjoyable evening had by all. Thanks to everyone at the County for supporting. “Great club-Great People, on and off the pitch”
From HBTSR to Newport
It was a very special event with over 50 very happy young men at the end of it. It was lovely to see the very positive attitude of your supporters and staff as well – that made people who often feel marginalised and unwelcome at best, feel like honoured guests. And the result was good too.
Thanks and I hope that we may have a return fixture !
Final word from a man seeking refuge in Newport-This page was put up in the Gap Centre during our visit and I love the sentiment that Newport is not just a city but a loving companion too. We saw evidence of this today.
All thanks to Mark, Clair and Sarah at the Gap for making the logistics work so well and for superb hospitality.
Newport Sanctuary project’s objectives are to provide support for refugees and asylum seekers to access mainstream services, to help develop and utilise skills through volunteering, to promote social inclusion and emotional well being through social activities and to reduce social exclusion by developing English language skills. More details here
Swansea asylum seekers support is a volunteer-led registered charity, run and managed by our members, who include asylum seekers, refugees and other local people. We give a warm welcome to people seeking sanctuary in Swansea through our twice-weekly drop-ins, and offer practical support, educational and recreational opportunities. More details here
Newport County Community under the guidance of The Football League Trust, the Community team meet the five key themes of Sports Participation, Health and Education, Social Inclusion and the Environment. County In The Community Trust deliver mainly football sessions, projects and schemes in and around the Newport area to engage local people and create a positive experience through Newport County AFC. Details here
A final postscript is that the following week several people were noted watching the match from nearby trees. Hayley was concerned taht they might injure themselves and Newport Realising how much watching football meant to these people gave a pair of season tickets for the following seasons matches.