Both Rochdale and Bradford City Football clubs will celebrate the role refugee footballers have played in the beautiful game this weekend as part of Amnesty International’s 'Football Welcomes' initiative.
The two teams play each other at the Crown Oil Arena on Saturday and will join many other football clubs across the country to show their support across a weekend of action now in its second year.
Supported by a range of Premier League clubs, the English Football League and the FA Women’s Super League, as well as grassroots and non-league teams, Football Welcomes also aims to highlight the important role football clubs can play in welcoming refugees and promoting integration.
The initiative highlights the role of refugee players in UK football -from a group of Spanish Civil War child refugees who sailed from Bilbao to Southampton in May 1937 and went on to play professionally here in the 1940s and 50s, to the likes of Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Manchester City Women’s Nadia Nadim today.
Free tickets will be offered to groups of refugees from both sides of the Pennines, as James Mason from Bradford City explains.
“I was made aware of the work of Amnesty International by a school friend of mine Simon (Rix) who is the bass guitarist of the Kaiser Chiefs who are ambassadors for the organisation.
“As he knew I was involved with Bradford City we discussed the possibility of helping ahead of this coming weekend. As we were scheduled to be playing at Rochdale I gave my good friend Russ (Green) a call to see if we could do something together such as the free tickets and thankfully he couldn't be more supportive.
“Football is the perfect vehicle to highlight important issues and the work that Amnesty International do and I'm glad we can all help."
Rochdale AFC Chief Executive Russ Green said: “Our world can be a dangerous place to live, with violence and persecution prevalent in many war torn countries, resulting in people fleeing in fear to seek a place of refuge.
“Here at Dale, through the excellent work of the club’s Community Trust, we have recently started engaging with the refugee and asylum-seeking community of Rochdale.
“It was apparent that there was no direct involvement or link to any sports activity or provider in the Borough where adults, young people and children could go to participate in a friendly, welcoming and safe environment, while mixing with other members of the wider community. The Trust’s newly launched ‘Open Arms’ sports-based inclusion programme does all of that.
“Football is an international language, a common bond between nations, and we hope by running programmes such as this, and adding our support to the ‘Football Welcomes’ weekend of action, it will help in some small way to raise awareness of the important role football clubs can play.”
Many other clubs around the country will be taking part in the Football Welcomes weekend - giving free tickets to a match for refugees and people seeking asylum living locally, arranging player visits or stadium tours, or organising a match or tournament for refugees and asylum seekers in their community programmes.
Naomi Westland, Football Welcomes Manager at Amnesty International UK added: “We are delighted both Rochdale and Bradford City are taking part in Football Welcomes this year. With so many clubs across the country participating, the message from football is clear - refugees are welcome in the UK. At a time when hate-filled rhetoric so often fills our newspapers and social media timelines, this shows that there is another story to be told.
“Violence and persecution around the world are forcing people to flee their homes and look for safety in communities elsewhere, and a small number make it to the UK. Football can give people a sense of purpose and belonging, and football clubs are at the heart of our towns and cities and have an important role to play in welcoming refugees and helping to promote respect, understanding and integration.”
Football Welcomes is part of Amnesty International’s 'I Welcome campaign' for a better international response to the global refugee crisis. The campaign encourages local communities to work together to create a more welcoming environment for people fleeing conflict and persecution.