THE smiles on the faces of a group of refugees said it all.
The Suffolk-based refugees lapped up the experience of playing on a 3G pitch on Wednesday evening organised as part of Amnesty International’s Football Welcomes Month.
More than 30 refugees took part in the festival which was organised by Suffolk FA with the help of various partners and hosted at Needham Market FC.
Football Welcomes month is designed to celebrate the contribution players with a refugee background make to the beautiful game, and the positive role football can play in bringing people together and creating more welcoming communities.
There was also a visit from Ipswich Town’s captain and Egyptian international Sam Morsy, who spoke to the refugees and posed for photographs with them.
One of the refugees said: “We do get bored being inside a hotel all the time, so we really appreciate what you have done for us tonight.
“We will not forget what you have put on for us – it will be a nice memory for us, and we are very grateful to Sam Morsy for coming along as well.”
Refugees enjoying playing on the 3G surface at Bloomfields, home of Needham Market FC. Main photograph: The refugees pose for a group shot wearing their Amnesty International Football Welcomes T-shirts before playing on the 3G pitch.
Suffolk FA Football Development Officer (Growth) Kirsty Smith said: “We were delighted to be able to deliver a Football Welcomes Festival for the Refugees.
“We have been working with lots of refugees across Suffolk over the last few months, so it was great to be able to bring them together and have a celebration of all the hard work.
“It’s essential that we use football as a tool to help refugees integrate into the local community and to also give them something to look forward to.
“Being able to physically exercise and socialise with their friends is vital for their mental health and wellbeing.
“It’s clear that football is a powerful force for good, bringing people together and providing a sense of belonging, and we were delighted to be able to deliver a festival for some of the refugees in the county this year.
“Football and the clubs are at the heart of their communities and can play an important role in creating respect and friendship across cultures. Hopefully this is the first of many refugee projects and initiatives we can deliver over the next few seasons.
“This has been a huge collaborative effort to put together this event, working across various organisations and volunteers. Without the help of these people today it wouldn’t have been possible, so I would like to say a huge thank you to the following people for all their time, effort and donations:
- United Glasgow FC (Suffolk FA Board member Julie Mulcahy) – Donated 20 pairs of shin pads
- Suffolk FA Chair Phil Lawler – Donated 30 pairs of shin pads
- Wots Up Day Centre – Mags Fortune & Lee Smith – Donated 2 Minibuses & 2 minibus drivers (Mags & Lee)
- Needham Market Football Club & Needham Market Academy – Rob Peace – Donated Venue & Minibus
- ITFC Community Trust – Donated 50 tickets to the EFL League One match versus Charlton on Saturday
- Ipswich Town FC – First Team player visit
- Tesco Stowmarket – Food Donation
- Referees – Dave Primus & Ian Moore
- Amnesty International – Donated 50 Football Welcome T-shirts for players
- Volunteers – Casey Arowosafe (Hope Church FC)
- CFA Staff - Melissa Stickland, Alan Dale, Richard Neal, Nick Garnham
- CFA Board – Phil Lawler & Julie Mulcahy
Suffolk FA Chair Phil Lawler said: “How fantastic it is to see so many of these young men participating in football with the terrific support of Needham Market and Ipswich Town.
“A special mention goes to Sam Morsy for generously giving his time to support the event, and I hope this is the first of many such events to support the refugee community in our county.”
Ipswich Town captain Sam Morsy (second right) poses for a photograph with some of the refugees
Sam Morsy, who was born in Wolverhampton after his father moved to England when he was just 23, said: “Football is really universal, isn’t it? Everyone coming together from different places but all enjoying it and all having a great time.
“It is amazing what the community are doing to help these people – to give them kit to let them play and it is humbling and refreshing. To see them having a great time is what it is all about.”
Robert Peace, Needham Market Operations & Academy Director said: “Needham Market Football Club and Needham Market Academy were delighted to host the Football Welcomes Refugee Festival.
“It is important to maintain a focus on the community and help wherever and whenever we can. Needham Market FC’s whole club approach is built upon the community and working with key partners such as Suffolk FA we can ensure this ethos is maintained.
“Football can be a great mechanism to bring communities together and we are looking forward to facilitating an event that everybody can enjoy.”
Andrew Doherty, Store Manager of Tesco in Stowmarket, said: “We at Tesco Stowmarket are delighted to be involved with the Football Welcomes event and proud to be able to support our local community events.”
Refugees are pictured with Ipswich Town captain Sam Morsy (back row, centre) at Needham Market FC on Wednesday evening.