Boro Football Welcome
By Robert Nichols
Tuesday 19 Nov 2019 16:48:00
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Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation has partnered with Amnesty International UK to launch the Football Welcomes Community Projects to help create more welcoming communities for refugees and people seeking asylum across the UK.

I joined Jonny Howson at MFC Foundation Herlingshaw Centre in Eston to see the work being carried out in a project supported by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

We watched four different activities including, football tennis, a small-sided game, a speed cage and target football. There was a real competitive edge amongst the refugee players but also a great sense of camaraderie. It is a social occasion but obviously is of major benefit physically as well as mentally as I was informed by some of those taking part.

Football Welcomes

“The guys can get out and they have got the social interaction as well,” Jonny Howson told me. “They are keeping themselves fit as well which is obviously very good and you can just look around here and see everyone is enjoying themselves.”

“We’re honoured to be working with Amnesty International again,” said Paul South, Lead Coach on the Foundation’s Football Welcomes programme. “We share common goals, share the same beliefs, ideals and principles.”

Naomi Westland, Amnesty International UK’s Football Welcomes Manager, said: “We’re delighted to have Middlesbrough Football Club involved in the Football Welcomes programme.  

“The Community Project is an exciting new part of the programme and we’re looking forward to working with the club and fans over the next three years to ensure that refugees and people seeking asylum feel welcome in Middlesbrough.

“The club is at the heart of the community and has a unique ability to bring people together through a love of the beautiful game.

“Football can give people a sense of belonging, on and off the pitch, and for people fleeing war, conflict and persecution, it can really help them to settle into a new country and culture.

“There is a real need right now for people to come together and focus on the things we have in common.”

I am hoping Fly Me To The Moon readers and Boro fans as a whole can help to support this healing process and extend a big Teesside welcome to people that have suffered so much. One thing we are looking into the possibility of doing is a boot donation bank at the stadium on match-days perhaps. As the refugee players might have loads of enthusiasm but can lack basic equipment.

I thought I would share with you the story of one young volunteer on the programme, Shaygan Banisaeid, who was forced to flea his native Iran. “I was arrested on a street in Iran for chewing gum. As part of my punishment they killed my dog, I shared a pillow with him for 11 years and they did it in front of my eyes.”

As you can read below Shaygan has a dream and MFC Foundation through the Football Welcomes programme is helping him take firm steps forward to realising that football aspiration.

Here is my interview with Shaygan

Fly: How long have been volunteering here?

SB: Yes for the last 6 months I have been volunteering as a football coach assistant.

Fly: Is your aim is to become a coach?

SB: Yes I want to become a football club manager like Sir Alex Ferguson. It is not humble to say but I believe that I have to set a lot of top and high quality goals for myself. Even if I don’t get there I am trying for that I get near there maybe. If I set a goal for myself to be in a World Cup then I am going to win the league title in my local area. Winning for me is not everything, I am doing my best. There are a lot of opportunities waiting for me to achieve. There are a lot of trophies, a lot of certificates but also they are waiting for me. They are waiting and asking for my hard work as well as my ambitions and my passion. So, I try my best with help from Middlesbrough Football Club, the local area and the Football Foundation. I will get there hopefully someday. For me it is a matter of working hard and never give up and it will be a matter of time because I believe I will get there.

Shaygan and Jonny Howson

Fly: What age are you?

SB: I am 20. I was born in 1999. I am still young for a football manager or coach but I think that is a positive point for me. I have a lot of time to improve my skills and abilities as a coach and learn a lot.

Fly: Why a manager rather than a player?

SB: I used to be a football player. I played Under 16 in Iran in the Super League. I was right defence for my local team, FC Shiraz and then I got a groin injury and couldn’t continue. But even when I was playing I was more interested in coaching. It is in my nature, I have leadership abilities and interest in leadership. So, if I have a good community I could push people and help people and help people to find their opportunities and to improve their skills, their abilities. It is very joyful for me and more joyful than a last minute goal for me to see if I could help someone to get where he wants. Where he always but he couldn’t. If I could make some difference in him and push him to get there, it is lovelier than a last second goal for me.

Fly: You talk about opportunities. Has this been a great opportunity for you?

SB: Yes, it has been a really great opportunity. I am always grateful, even if someday if I could get somewhere I owe all of that to this opportunity because it is with this opportunity which they gave me with much hospitality, they teach me and actually I realise how close I am to my goals. And now I have the opportunity, I have the chance, I have the time, I am at a good age and somebody here is supporting me, Middlesbrough Football Foundation is supporting me completely and very kindly they are funding me for the football courses. So, with this opportunity and their support they are helping me to have enough encouragement to believe my goals and work for them. I owe all of them because it was the first place that they teach me I am close to my goals and it is up to me to work hard and with ambitions, passion and a lot of things that I have to make by myself. So, I am really grateful to the Football Foundation and the opportunity they gave me, they have a lot of activities to find the talented people and kindly give them an opportunity to improve.

So, it is really great. I haven’t found this in my country. Even if you were good nobody was believing you. Here, I don’t say I am good or talented but somebody is trying to teach me that I am. It is the main point when somebody is supporting you and pushing you it works. But if I hadn’t found this opportunity I might have been circling for one year or two years and then it would be goodbye and I am going to work in a pizza shop. But now when I am thinking of 10 years later I see myself as the assistant at Middlesbrough Football Club. When I am thinking of 15 years later I see myself as a manager, maybe AC Milan with Kaka who I once met. I am really grateful and much appreciate the local area, Middlesbrough Football Club and the Football Foundation, I owe all of them for this opportunity.

Action

Naomi Westland from Amnesty International UK told me more about the Football Welcomes programme.

Fly: Can you tell us about what we are seeing today?

NW: I work for Amnesty International UK, Naomi Westland, my job title is Football Welcomes Manager. The Football Welcomes programme is really looking at how to create more welcoming communities for refugees and people seeking asylum through football. What is happening here today is the launch of the Football Welcomes community project which will see Amnesty working with four football club foundations and one County FA across the different areas of the UK over the next three years to establish the most effective way for football clubs to work with other local organisations to create more welcoming communities. So, the idea is they will be working with local charities, the County FA, schools, universities, even local businesses. Fans groups are really important as well to look across the community at how different people can get involved and make a contribution to making their community more welcoming to people who have fled conflict and persecution.

Fly: You mentioned football supporters as part of the welcome, what can we do?

NW: One of the areas we have been wanting to do from the beginning is getting fans involved. In Doncaster the fans did a big boot drive and donated boots, they distributed them to the players. One issue is having appropriate kit to play in and they have organised a walk to the stadium on matchdays and had refugees and fans involved in that walking together.

What is really nice about the way the work has developed in Middlesbrough is that the Foundation has worked very closely with MAP, Methodist Asylum Project, a major charity in Middlesbrough working with refugees and asylum seekers and it is a really nice partnership because it is really in collaboration with an organisation doing a lot of grass roots work. So, to bring that together with football and community football provision has been really successful.

You can see people getting involved and how much people are enjoying it. Talk to anybody and they will tell you how important it is.

Fly: I have just been talking to Shaygan, who is volunteering. I said it must be very important for physical fitness and he said straight away, mental.

NW: Yes, totally. Mental health, isolation, loneliness, depression. If you think of the trauma that people have experienced and the separation from family and having to rebuild your life in another country where you may not speak the language. The culture might be unfamiliar to you. That whole combination of factors is highly likely to lead to mental health problems. Being able to take part in sport and particularly in team sport. How you feel after doing exercise is one thing but also being able to make friends and develop connections and start to build a social network across the community.

Fly: I can see that this is once a week. Meeting people weekly and keeping fit weekly.

NW: Yes you have got something regular. It is really positive I think. There was an interview here early in the season of one of the participants and he said he now feels really at home in Middesbrough. It is part of that getting to feel at home having the chance to participate in these kind of activities.

About Football Welcomes

The Football Welcomes programme was launched three years ago to celebrate the contribution of refugees to football and the positive role the game plays in bringing people together.

As part of the programme, football clubs from across England, Scotland and Wales give out free match tickets to refugees and people seeking asylum living locally, arrange player visits or stadium tours, or organise a match or tournament for refugees and people seeking asylum in their community programmes.

AmnestyOver the last year more than 160 clubs have taken part to highlight the important role football clubs can play in welcoming refugees into their local communities, and in helping them to settle in to a new country and culture.

 



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