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The UK’s biggest ever celebration of refugees and football

The UK’s biggest ever celebration of refugees and football

Over the weekend of 27-28 April 2019, a record-breaking 170 football clubs came together for Amnesty’s third Football Welcomes weekend to celebrate the contribution players with refugee backgrounds make to the game and to highlight the role of football in welcoming refugees and helping make people feel at home in a new country.

From Celtic to Manchester United to Derby County to Bristol City to West Ham to Lewes, clubs across the country offered free tickets or stadium tours, arranged player visits, matches or tournaments for refugees and people seeking asylum, in the biggest ever celebration of refugees and football in the UK. 

Gary Lineker joined footballers Mo Besic and Anita Asante, and celebrity football fans Keira Knightley, Dermot O’Leary, Tom Brittney, Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson in supporting the initiative.


Parliamentarians also showed their support, including Secretary of State, Penny Mordaunt:

And Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston in Trafford:

With over half of Premier League clubs participating in Football Welcomes, alongside teams from the English Football League; the FA Women’s Super League, Championship and National League; Scottish Premiership and Championship, as well as non-league and grassroots teams across the country, the message from football is clear: refugees are welcome in the UK.

From a group of children who fled the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and became some of the first refugees to play professionally in the UK, to the likes of Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke, Charlton Athletic’s Liz Ejupi and ex-Manchester City forward Nadia Nadim, players with a refugee background have been making their mark on football for decades. Middlesbrough midfielder Mo Besic, whose family fled the war in Bosnia for safety in Germany, said: “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been part of a refugee family. It’s brilliant to see football clubs from across the country taking a stand to support refugees and to make them feel welcome.”

To mark the weekend, Manchester United invited a group of school children with a refugee background to their game against Chelsea, while the Chelsea Foundation arranged a game between their refugee team and a team from Arsenal in the Community.

Leicester City organised a tournament – with 14 women’s and men’s refugee teams, including from Chelsea FC and Middlesbrough FC. Newcastle United offered free tickets and a stadium tour, while Crystal Palace organised a match between Palace and Everton refugee teams, with tickets to the men’s first team game afterwards.

QPR’s community trust organised a game between its refugee team and one representing Nottingham Forest, with a stadium tour and tickets to the men’s first team game where participants made up the guard of honour welcoming the players onto the pitch.

Middlesbrough’s men’s refugee team played an 8-a-side game against a similar team from Rotherham United, with tickets to the men’s first team game against Reading. Millwall Lionesses organised a game for two refugee teams ahead of their match against Manchester United, while Burnley and Bath City offered free tickets. Watford Ladies, Swansea City, Forest Green Rovers, and Lewes and Bristol City’s men’s and women’s teams, among many others, warmed up Football Welcomes t-shirts and invited refugees living locally to attend their games.

Meanwhile, almost the entire FA Women’s National League participated, helping to promote Football Welcomes online, with refugees invited to the Cup Final at Burton Albion’s Pirelli stadium on the Sunday, and both teams - Blackburn Rovers and Crawley Wasps - warming up in Football Welcomes t-shirts.

You can check if your club participated on our map here:

These are just some examples of how football clubs have participated.

We’re delighted at how much Football Welcomes has grown over the last two years, and look forward to doing it all again in 2020. In the meantime, we will continue to work with clubs across the country to help establish and develop long-term projects to contribute to creating more welcoming communities for refugees and people seeking asylum.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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