Football Welcomes 2018 has kicked off and it’s even bigger than last year.
Over the weekend of 21-22 April, sixty football clubs across the country – from the Premier League to grassroots refugee teams and celebrity fans– laid aside their rivalries and come together to celebrate the contribution refugee players have made, and continue to make, to the beautiful game.
More than half of the Premier League football clubs – including Arsenal, Everton, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Leicester City -took part. They were joined by clubs from the FA Women’s Super League, English Football League and Scottish Premiership, as well as non-league and grassroots teams across the country.
Footballers Mario Vrančić, Anita Asante and Steven Pienaar joined celebrity football fans Keira Knightley, Dame Judi Dench, Kaiser Chiefs, Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart, Ken Loach, Jordan Stephens and Juliet Stevenson in backing the initiative.
‘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.’
Steven Pienaar, Former Everton winger
By putting on events and activities for refugees and people seeking asylum living nearby – from offering free tickets and putting on a match or tournament, to arranging a player visit or a stadium tour – football clubs are saying loud and clear that refugees are welcome in the UK.
Footballers with a refugee background have been making their mark on the beautiful game for decades. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Chelsea’s Victor Moses, Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Manchester City Women’s Nadia Nadim are among those currently playing in the UK. They follow in the footsteps of a group of Spanish Civil War child refugees who sailed from Bilbao to safety in Southampton over 80 years ago, and went on to play for the Saints as well as Wolves, Coventry, Brentford, Cambridge United, Colchester United and Norwich City in the 1940s and 50s.
At the heart of the community
Football clubs are at the heart of many of our communities, where people come together, on and off the pitch, over a shared passion for the beautiful game.
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.
In Norfolk, school children have sent questions to Norwich City midfielder Mario Vrančić for a video interview about his family’s experience of fleeing Bosnia to Germany when the Balkan conflict erupted in the early 90s.
🎥 “We left our house (in Bosnia) and just took some clothes and ID.”
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) April 20, 2018
Sixty-one local schools and nearly 20,000 children are participating in ‘Norfolk Welcomes – Football Welcomes’ on 20 April, when normal lessons will be suspended and the children will spend the day learning about migration to East Anglia and the role that football can play welcoming refugees.
‘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.’
Mario Vrančić, Midfielder for Norwich City FC
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.
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, while Spurs and Swansea have invited refugees to their next home games.
#SCFC are joining clubs across the country this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugee players make to the beautiful game.
It's all part of @AmnestyUK International’s Football Welcomes initiative.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) April 20, 2018
Crystal Palace’s foundation, Palace for Life, has released a short film about a young Afghan refugee who has taken part in one of their community schemes, while Huddersfield Town has 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.
A number of women’s teams have also extended an invitation to refugees to come and watch a game, and Everton Ladies, Sunderland Ladies, Bristol City Women and Aston Villa Ladies will be warming up in Football Welcomes t-shirts. Some of the Chelsea Ladies squad will be promoting the initiative 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.”
In Scotland, Glasgow Celtic and Rangers are offering free tickets and stadium tours, while in Edinburgh, Big Hearts, Heart of Midlothian’s community trust, will be handing out Football Welcomes stickers and leaflets and promoting the initiative online.
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) April 18, 2018
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.
— Brentford FC CST (@BrentfordFCCST) April 20, 2018
Meanwhile, in non-league football, Bath City and Leyton Orient are inviting refugees to a game, and City of Liverpool – which works with refugees and people seeking asylum through its community programmes – will be warming up in Football Welcomes t-shirts. 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 over the weekend.
Beyond the weekend, Amnesty’s Football Welcomes initiative encourages clubs to work longer-term with other organisations in their communities to welcome refugees and asylum seekers, and promote integration.
‘It’s great to see women’s teams taking part in Amnesty’s brilliant Football Welcomes initiative this year. It can be much more difficult for girls and women to access and participate in sport and this sends a clear and important message that football is for everyone. I’m over the moon that the Hammers are joining so many other clubs to say ‘Refugees Welcome’ this weekend.’
Keira Knightley, West Ham fan and Bend It Like Beckham actor
We know that all over the country ordinary people are going to extraordinary lengths to welcome and support refugees and asylum seekers, and we are delighted that so many football clubs are now joining them.
These acts of kindness and solidarity are helping people who have experienced the trauma of violence and oppression to feel welcome, less alone and to rebuild their lives in safety in communities across the UK.
‘Football, and all sports, are for everyone to enjoy. How wonderful that the football clubs are making this particular stand and ensuring that everybody is included and made welcome.’
Dame Judi Dench, actor and Everton fan