The football community will be supporting a new Amnesty International initiative this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to football since the Second World War.Football Welcomes, a weekend of activities on 22nd and 23rd April supported by the EFL, a range of Premier League clubs, and the FA Women’s Super League, 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 infamous bombing of Guernica on 26th April 1937, who went on to play for Southampton, Coventry City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brentford, Norwich City, Colchester United and Cambridge United.
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.”
Clubs participating in Football Welcomes - including Leicester City, Hull City, Stoke City, Notts County, QPR and Brentford - are putting on various activities and events this weekend to show their support for and solidarity with refugees.
Some are offering free tickets to refugees living locally or putting on tournaments for refugee participants in their community schemes. Others are organising stadium tours or player visits, or promoting the initiative on their websites or in match programmes.
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 Coventry City 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.”
Brentford are at home to QPR in the Sky Bet Championship on Saturday, but the two clubs will be putting aside their rivalries to hold a match for refugee participants in their youth community programmes.
They are also offering free tickets to the West London derby to these young people who, wearing Amnesty t-shirts saying “Football Welcomes Refugees”, will make up the guard of honour bringing the players onto the pitch.
Cambridge United celebrated Football Welcomes on Easter Monday by inviting 15 refugees to their game against Exeter that afternoon.
Notts County Football in the Community, which runs weekly football sessions for refugees and asylum seekers, will be inviting first-team players Alan Smith and Shola Ameobi to visit the project, and Preston North End will be organising a tour of the Deepdale stadium next month for around 60 refugees and asylum-seekers living nearby.
Preston North End Manager Simon Grayson said: “Eighty years on since the arrival of some of the first refugees to play football since WW2, I am delighted to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to football in the UK.
“Throughout football, refugees have played and continue to play a significant role in the beautiful game that we know and love today.”