Over 160 football clubs in Britain took part in Amnesty’s Football Welcomes campaign on the weekend of 27/28th April to celebrate the contribution refugees make to the game.From the children fleeing the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s who went on to become some of the first refugees to play professionally here, to the likes of Granit Xhaka, Nadia Nadim and Victor Moses in more recent years, refugee players have been making their mark on football for many years.
As part of the campaign, free match tickets were distributed to people seeking sanctuary [ refuge or asylum] and the campaign promoted in their programmes and on their websites.
Here in Wales, Swansea City, Cardiff City Ladies and Newport county participated. At Newport County AFC, people seeking sanctuary in both Swansea and Newport used the opportunity to join together to play football, share food and watch the match. A similar event last year allowed people who had met up on their long journeys seeking safety to meet again under happier circumstances and share a love of football. Some of the people enjoyed the match so much that they climbed up trees to watch the next match. Newport county were impressed by this dedication but concerned about the risk of falling so gave a pair of complimentary season tickets to be used by the asylum seeking community throughout the season. These have been well used and brought great joy to people who otherwise could not afford to see live football.
As Newport County’s contribution to the Football welcomes campaign this year over 40 people seeking asylum in Swansea or Newport attended to watch Newport beat Oldham in a thrilling end of season clash. Media manager Ben said ‘ We were delighted to host such a diverse group of people who are united by a love of football. Newport County are committed to being an inclusive and welcoming club.’
“It’s clear that football is a powerful force for good, bringing people together and providing a sense of belonging, and we are delighted that more clubs than ever are taking part in Football Welcomes this year,” said Amnesty’s Naomi Westland. “Across the country football clubs are doing great work in their communities to show there is more that unites us than divides us. Football clubs are at the heart of their communities and can play an important role in creating respect and friendship across cultures.
Playing football, and taking part in sport more generally, can not only be good for physical and mental health, but can also give people a sense of belonging and purpose.With so many people across the globe forced to abandon their homes due to conflict and persecution, this weekend the message from football is clear: refugees are welcome in the UK.”
Tuesday 30th April
Newport county safety manager Ian Wilkinson rang me at about 11am on match day to alert me to something that they had only just become aware of- Nigel Farage was doing a talk at a venue next door to the football ground and they feared that there might be protests. Also there was a Kurdish rally expected.
I had a detailed discussion with Mark Seymour coordinator at the Gap sanctuary Newport. He felt we could get the coach to drop off at a different venue nearer to the Gap and that in discussion with the football ground we could gain access at the far end away from the Nigel Farage venue and possibly walk in smaller numbers so we weren’t mistaken for a protest march ourselves. I also asked him to alert the police to our visit and plans.
Stuart ( Bluebird Coaches) and I had a chat and then Stuart talked with Mark. Wayne was also keen for the trip to go ahead. We hoped that we were not taking any undue risk and that people would be welcomed and enjoy a good game.
And so it was that Lawrence and I arrived at the Sanctuary at around 3pm to help make food and to check upon plans.
Karen, Nyamuoch,Parvez and Sarah worked quickly to prepare a chickpea, mushroom and spinach curry. Karen had been in Southampton earlier in the day and called in just to pick up something but stayed to cook. Meanwhile, Sarah and Mark and even Karen multitasked dealing with job applications, social services and finding accommodation for people who called in.
The bus arrived with only 17 of the expected 45 people but all were keen football fans including Phil. After welcoming drinks and biscuits for both the usual participants at the Gap and the Swansea visitors, most people went to play football on a local pitch whilst some stayed to play snooker or Fifa or just chat.
Newport county let us in through a side entrance and showed us to our seats. In the announcements we were welcomed and during the game Norman the community manager came to say we might be able to meet the players at the end. When I thanked him for the club’s generosity he told me that they were delighted to have us there and as a community club they wanted to welcome all of the community.
We learned some claps and chants with Spytty the K9 and were rewarded with 2 goals. The time passed quickly and Stuart was very patient having listened to the match and aware that we were delayed by injury time.