Clubs celebrate refugee footballers in Amnesty UK initiative20 April 2017

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Named ‘Football Welcomes’ the initiative will include a weekend of activities on 22 and 23 April to mark the 80th anniversary of the arrival of some of the first refugees to play professional football in the UK.

They were child refugees from the Spanish Civil War, evacuated to the UK after the infamous bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937, who went on to play for Southampton, Coventry City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brentford, Norwich City, Colchester United and Cambridge United.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Refugees have made an important contribution to this much-loved game and to their communities throughout the years. We are delighted that so many football clubs are embracing this. They have a key role to play in helping to promote respect, understanding and integration.

“This is the first year of Football Welcomes and we’d love it to become a key fixture in the football calendar for years to come.”

Clubs participating in Football Welcomes – including Leicester City, Hull City, Everton, Southampton, Stoke City, Brentford and Notts County – are putting on various activities and events this weekend to show their support for and solidarity with refugees. Some are offering free tickets to refugees living locally or putting on tournaments for refugee participants in their community schemes. Others are organising stadium tours or player visits, or promoting the initiative on their websites or in match programmes.

Through their community trust, Leicester City have organised a football match on Saturday (15 April) for refugees and asylum-seekers who participate in their outreach projects, and will be holding educational workshops with others in the community about what it’s like to be a refugee and why people have to flee their homes.

Hull City is also organising a game for refugees participating in its community scheme before their home game against Watford on Saturday, and is offering them free tickets for the match.

Dan Johnson, Director of Communications at the Premier League, said: “The Premier League is pleased to see a good number of our clubs supporting ‘Football Welcomes’.

“Premier League football is known for its ability to help people from all walks of life connect as well as being a force for good in clubs’ local areas. The cosmopolitan nature and make-up of our clubs, players and fans has also helped a range of equalities and inclusion issues and we will continue to promote these important agendas.”

Cambridge United celebrated Football Welcomes on Monday by inviting 15 refugees to their game against Exeter City; Notts County Football in the Community, which runs weekly football sessions for refugees and asylum seekers, will be inviting first-team players Alan Smith and Shola Ameobi to visit the project today (20 April); and Preston North End will be organising a tour of the Deepdale stadium next month for around 60 refugees and asylum-seekers living nearby.

The initiative is supported by the Fare network, the Basque Children of ’37 Association, Connect Sport, Football Supporters Federation, Fare members FURD (Football Unites, Racism Divides) and Kick it Out and the University of Brighton.

Supplied by Les Dégommeuses/ ©Lou Camino