AHEAD of Saturday’s West London derby at Griffin Park, QPR and Brentford will be joining football clubs across the country this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to football, as part of a new Amnesty International initiative.
Football Welcomes – a weekend of action for football clubs coordinated by Amnesty – marks the 80th anniversary of the arrival in the UK of some of the first refugees to play professional football here. They were child refugees from the Spanish Civil War, evacuated to the UK after the bombing of Guernica on April 26th 1937. One of the boys, Jose Gallego, went on to play for Brentford, as well as Southampton, Colchester United and Cambridge United, while others also joined Southampton, Coventry City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City.
Supported by a range of Premier League clubs, the English Football League and the FA Women’s Super League, Football Welcomes also aims to highlight the important role football clubs can play in promoting community cohesion.
On Saturday, Brentford will be hosting a match for refugee participants in their youth community programmes against a similar team from QPR. The clubs are providing free tickets to the game between the two teams afterwards, where the young people – wearing Amnesty T-shirts saying Football Welcomes Refugees – will make up the guard of honour bringing the players onto the pitch.
Other clubs around the country are offering similar activities, with some arranging player visits or stadium tours for refugees living in the community.
James McLynn, Youth and Communities Officer at QPR in the Community Trust, told www.qpr.co.uk
: “The power of football as a universal language and its ability to bring people together is well known.
“QPR run a number of free football sessions across West and North-West London and these sessions attract young people from various backgrounds.
“QPR recognises the stigma that can be attached to those with refugee status and deems it important to acknowledge the contribution that refugees make to this country past, present and future.
“QPR also continues to support the Mayor of London’s #LondonIsOpen campaign, which aims to reassure foreign nationals who live in London that they will always be welcome, and that any form of discrimination will not be tolerated.”
Football Welcomes is part of Amnesty International’s 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.
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.
“Eighty years on from the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, horrific violence is again forcing many people to flee their homes, leaving everything behind as they look for safety elsewhere. We’re very pleased to be working with football clubs to help make refugees who have come to the UK feel welcome. 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.”
Shaun Harvey, EFL Chief Executive, said: “The EFL is proud to be supporting Amnesty International's Football Welcomes campaign to recognise the significant and lasting contribution refugees have made to the professional game over the past 80 years.
“Just this month in the Checkatrade Trophy Final the opening goal was scored by Gael Bigirimana, who moved to England in 2004 from Burundi, a goal that helped secure his club a memorable victory at Wembley.
“Our 72 clubs are at the very heart of our communities across England and Wales and have an integral part to play in community cohesion.”