On Saturday 15 July at the fourth ever ‘London Unity Cup’ in Camden Town, the JRS UK football team was born!
We had been invited to put up a team for a small football tournament for refugees and we had no problem recruiting enough players to represent JRS. There were eight teams in all and some looked very well prepared, fit and able. The teams were split into two groups of four, with matches lasting 20 minutes, with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the semi-finals.
It was also a day for bringing people together, meeting other similar charities to us and encouraging all who took part to have a good time.
We were up for the first match of the tournament just as the sun came out from behind the clouds to light up the Castlehaven sports pitches, our Wembley stadium for the day. Our opponents were called ‘Legends FC’ and our squad was made up of Karim (in goal), Mark, Muhydeen, Omer, Moussa, Eyad and our superb captain, Fernand.
Within a few minutes of the game starting, we found ourselves one nil down and I was beginning to worry this could be a long day. However, within no time we were level and playing well and after scoring goals either side of half-time we ran out 5-3 winners. I have played and watched football all my life and this was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. I wasn’t even playing but just living out my fantasy of being a footballing mastermind.
As we enjoyed a rest all talk was on what we needed to do to secure a semi-final spot. Surely one win from our remaining two games would do the job. We started game 2 against ‘Forest United Green’ with much more confidence but soon found ourselves 4-1 down after a lack-lustre first half. I didn’t give the team the ‘hairdryer’ treatment at half-time, but I must have said something right because with a couple of minutes to go in the second half we had got back to 4-3 and were looking for the equaliser. Time was not on our side, and we lost but our journey felt far from over.
The less said about game 3 the better, we were on the wrong end of an eleven-goal thriller against ‘Dost A’ and our tournament was over. One of our best players had to leave before the start and Fernand, our player of the tournament, went off with a foot injury in the first half. Dost, a centre for young refugees and migrants, had two teams, one of which won the tournament in the end.
It wasn’t meant to be, but it really didn’t matter. We had played with such joy and were easily the best supported team in the competition. The sight of Karim, our goalkeeper, bravely and skilfully keeping a number of shots out of our net will live long in my memory. The day represented all that is good about football with sportsmanship at a premium at the ‘London Unity Cup’.
Great credit is due to Gloria Ho, the former Destitution Services Manager at the Hackney Red Cross Centre, who started the tournament pre-COVID with a group of friends in the hope that it might lead to more future events and greater integration between the refugee/asylum seeking communities and local communities.
I must also say a big thank-you to Dallya for organising our team and Mark for demonstrating yet another of his many talents out on the pitch. The biggest thank-you must go to the rest of our players and I know our friends who played enjoyed the day very much.
Who knows, the trophy cabinet may not stay empty for too long.
Everyone who took part can be very proud of the contribution JRS made to this excellent competition. It was a day full of joy and laughter and we WERE a GREAT team. I hope we have many more days like this, the ‘beautiful game’ can now take its rightful place in a wonderful array of activities we run for our refugee friends.
Aidan is the Deputy Director (Operations) at JRS UK, and head coach of our new football team!