Wigan Athletic Community Trust is showing that football is for everyone by providing weekly football sessions to a group of Afghan refugees.
“You see everybody just enjoying having a normal life again, which is great,” says one of the participants, Ghiasi, who fled from the ongoing war in his home country last August.
With many people being evacuated from all across the Afghanistan and placed in a Holiday Inn near the DW Stadium, Wigan Council approached the Football Club for any support that they could provide.
Step forward, Latics Trust’s Community Development Manager Steven Eastwood, who has organised the initiative since October 2021.
“For them to have an hour or two each week to come and forget about everything, take part in some physical activity and bond with some of the other people in the hotel that they might not have known, it’s priceless for them,” he explains.
“There are 50 or 60 people coming for a game of football and a release from some of the things they’ve come from and it’s very diverse – we’ve got kids from eight-years-old to older adults taking part.
“Everyone’s been really open about their past, where they’ve come from and the things that they had that they don’t have anymore. They’re all appreciative of what they’ve been given here and there’s nothing but positivity that comes from them.
“To have left behind their old life and come here with nothing, and still have smiles on their faces, is a credit to them. It’s been great to see how they’ve developed between themselves since these sessions started.”
Many of the participants have suffered unspeakable atrocities back in their homeland, witnessing terrible crimes and experiencing the loss of friends and family members, including siblings and parents.
Refugee Ahmed says: “We have come from somewhere that has been in war – there are explosions everywhere and a lot of tension. The moments where we come here with the guys to play football is so nice and there is a feeling of peace.
“We’ve been coming for a few months now. The Club came to the hotel where we are staying and asked us to come here, and we’ve been really enjoying it.
“The people of Wigan and everyone at the Club are really nice. They are helpful and kind and that makes us happy.”
Ghiasi reinforced those sentiments, adding: “Everybody really enjoys it. We have the possibility to play football here once a week each Wednesday. There are different ages here and we are all fans of football and really appreciate being here.
“We came from a real tragedy back in Afghanistan and the first time we came here, everybody was under a lot of pressure, so when we had the support from the Wigan Council and Wigan Athletic to be able to play football, I believe that freed up a lot of tension for many of us.
“We have all been evacuated from different parts of Afghanistan, but we became friends here in the hotel and now we’re a good team and try to be good contributors to the community here in Wigan.”
Latics players Ben Amos and Scott Smith attended one of the sessions this week, engaging with the participants and taking part in some drills led by the Community Trust coaches.
“I wouldn’t even like to think of some of the obstacles they’ve come up against,” Under-23s captain Smith admits. “I was having a conversation with a few of them and some have got incredible English skills and it just shows how intelligent they are.
“They were talking to me about some of the things they’ve come up against and it puts into perspective for us just good we have it.
“They’ve had obstacles to overcome and everyone in the community has been more than welcoming towards them, and they’re very appreciative for everything that people have done for them, too.
“It was great to join in today. Football is for everyone and this session certainly shows it.”