FOOTBALL clubs in the West Country have been joining teams across the country, players and celebrity fans to take part in Amnesty International UK’s second ‘Football Welcomes’ initiative to celebrate the contribution refugees make to the beautiful game.
Sixty clubs participated in the weekend of activities. 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 April 26, 1937 – who went on to become some of the first refugees to play professional football in the UK.
This year, twice the number of clubs are taking part, including more than half of the English Premier League as well as teams from the FA Women’s Super League, the Scottish Premiership, the English Football League, and non-league and grass-roots clubs all over the country.
Forest Green Rovers, Bath City, Bristol City Women and grassroots refugee team Plymouth Hope, are putting on various activities and events to show their support for and solidarity with refugees.
League Two Forest Green Rovers invited refugees and asylum seekers living nearby to their game against Chesterfield, while in the FA Women’s Super League, Bristol City – away at Sunderland – were due to warm up in Football Welcomes T-shirts.
In non-league football, Bath City are inviting refugees and asylum seekers to their next National League South home game, and to enjoy a tour of the ground.
Meanwhile, grass-roots refugee team Plymouth Hope is planning to organise a game against another local team, and the players will also be wearing Football Welcomes T-shirts to warm up.
Ken Loach, Bath City fan and director of films I, Daniel Blake and Looking for Eric, said: “Football Welcomes is a brilliant initiative and not much beats an afternoon at Twerton Park, so I’m thrilled that Bath City is involved.
“As a community-owned club, we will certainly play our part in this campaign.
“No one wants to be a refugee. 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.”
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 the Saints, Wolves and Coventry 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, we arrive at the likes of Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Manchester City Women’s Nadia Nadim today.