Cambridge United Football Club will be joining football clubs across the country this weekend (21-22 April) to celebrate the contribution refugee players make to the beautiful game, as part of Amnesty International’s Football Welcomes initiative.
Football Welcomes, a weekend of action now in its second year, 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. One of the Spanish players, Jose Gallego, signed for Cambridge in the 1950s and his brother Antonio, played for Cambridge Town. Their families settled in the city and it quickly became a home from home.
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.
To mark Football WelcomesCambridge United Football Club recently welcomed a number of families from Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign (CRRC) to the Abbey Stadium. Subsequently a number of individuals from CRRC recently came for a separate tour of the Abbey Stadium and have got involved with one of Cambridge United Community Trust’s football programmes.
Cambridge United is one of a number of clubs across the country running regular football sessions for refugees and people seeking asylum through our Football For All programme. It is a free inclusive football session to bring different members of our local communities in Cambridge together. The group has an emphasis on community and togetherness, welcoming everyone regardless of their race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion, belief or ability.
Ben Szreter, CEO of Cambridge United Community Trust, said: "Cambridge United is delighted to be supporting refugees through Amnesty International's inaugural Football Welcomes initiative. Cambridge United has along historical association with refugees and we're excited to welcome refugees from our local community to more games in the future.”
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 said: “We are delighted Cambridge United Football Club 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.