SUFFOLK FA delivered a Football Welcomes event in conjunction with Suffolk New College.
The event held at Goals in Ipswich was to celebrate the Amnesty International Football Welcomes project.
This recognises 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.
This was the first time Suffolk FA have worked with Suffolk New College students to deliver a project like this and it was a huge success.
The Football Studies students were tasked with creating the Football Welcomes Festival from scratch, everything from writing a risk assessment, advertising the festival, encouraging refugees to participate, planning fixtures, refereeing the small-sided matches, working out the scores, managing the teams, whilst trying to communicate and breach multiple different language barriers.
Suffolk FA were able to secure black Amnesty Football Welcomes t-shirts for the players and white ones for the football studies students.
This was a great asset to have as it made the message of the festival to be seen very clearly by all involved and raise awareness of the project around Suffolk New College.
Players from a wide range of backgrounds attended, with at least 10 different nationalities participating in the event, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Portugal, Sudan and Syria.
Despite all of the different languages involved, football was the overriding universal language and one that everyone understood.
Mitchell Martin, one of the Football Studies students, said: “We used our passion for sport to link other communities together to build friendships and share our love for sport.”
Fellow student Toby Salkeld said: “We hosted a Football Welcomes event for refugees and asylum seekers from over 10 different countries to give them an opportunity to play football and enjoy themselves.
“We wanted to promote communities and bringing people together to build friendships and positive vibes around towns/cities.”
Another student, Harry Cowlin, added: “I thought the Football Welcomes event was a great event and it met its goal of bringing the community together. It is nice for the ESOL students to meet new faces which will grow to be familiar faces around the college.”
Football Studies Sports Lecturer Gareth Morris said: “I was really proud to see our Suffolk New College Football Studies students lead an exceptional event in conjunction with Suffolk FA.
“The Football Welcomes initiative event provided the opportunity for our ESOL learners to participate in a fun football event meeting other members of the college community and making friends.
“This will undoubtedly benefit the learners in feeling more at home at college and set them up to progress in their education. Another piece of evidence that sport and specifically football can positively impact on people's lives.”
Suffolk FA Football Development Officer (Growth) said: “Over the last few years we as a County FA have worked mainly with adult male refugees, so this year we wanted to focus on a younger group.
“The event was a huge success and delivering this project in partnership with Suffolk New College Football Studies students gave us the chance to engage with a new audience within the county – not only the refugees themselves but also students/people that may have never heard of this programme before.
“Football Welcomes is exactly what it says on the tin – creating a welcoming environment for refugees within the local community, whether that’s in a college or out in grassroots football, the message is still the same.
“Therefore, by educating the students and raising the profile of such a worthwhile project can only lead to positive change. The students absolutely smashed it, and it is something we would like to deliver again with these guys next year.”