Football players and celebrity fans back Amnesty’s ‘Football Welcomes’ this weekend | Amnesty International UK

Football players and celebrity fans back Amnesty’s ‘Football Welcomes’ this weekend

  • Actor and Huddersfield fan Patrick Stewart, Bend It Like Beckham actor Juliet Stevenson and Leeds fans the Kaiser Chiefs, join players Valon Behrami, Saido Berahino and Christian Benteke in supporting Amnesty’s Football Welcomes initiative this weekend
  • More than 25 clubs are participating - including Leicester City, Hull City, Everton, Southampton, Brentford and Notts County - to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to football
  • Date marks 80th anniversary of arrival in UK of Spanish Civil War child refugees who became professional footballers here

Premier League players and celebrities including actor and lifelong Huddersfield Town fan Patrick Stewart, Bend it like Beckham actor Juliet Stevenson and Leeds fans the Kaiser Chiefs are backing Amnesty’s Football Welcomes initiative this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugees make to football.

They have added their voices to those of Crystal Palace forward Christian Benteke, Stoke City striker Saido Berahino and Watford midfielder Valon Behrami who have all spoken out about their experiences as refugee footballers.

Football Welcomes, which kicks off for the first time this weekend (22-23 April), will see over 25 Premier League, English Football League and non-league clubs across the country show their support for and solidarity with refugees.

Actor Patrick Stewart said:

“It’s wonderful to see the footballing community celebrate the contribution of refugees to the beautiful game, while at the same time helping create a more welcoming environment for people who have sought safety on these shores. I’m thrilled my club, Huddersfield Town AFC, are backing this fantastic Football Welcomes initiative.”

The weekend celebration, supported by a range of Premier League clubs, the English Football League 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 26 April 1937, who went on to play for Southampton, Coventry City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brentford, Norwich City, Colchester United and Cambridge United.

Actor and Amnesty Ambassador Juliet Stevenson said:

“We have a legal and moral obligation to protect people fleeing bombs, bullets and tyrants, and throughout history those people have enriched our society. It’s great to be celebrating the contribution refugees make to our communities, both on and off the pitch.”

Clubs participating in Football Welcomes - including Leicester City, Hull City, Everton, Southampton, Stoke City, Brentford and Notts County - 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.

Simon Rix, bassist with the band Kaiser Chiefs and also an Amnesty Ambassador said:

“Football Welcomes is a great way for the footballing community to celebrate the contribution of refugees to football and appreciate what it means to flee conflict and persecution. People feel footballers are millionaires who live on islands, on boats or in mansions, but some of them have been through terrible times.  This campaign is a really good way to bring it into focus for everybody.”

Football Welcomes is part of Amnesty International’s I 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.

Watford Midfielder Valon Behrami, whose family escaped the war on Kosovo when he was four, said:

“Sport is one of the best solutions to integration. Football and sport in general can help you do a lot.

“It’s very good to give something back to Switzerland. It’s a country that give me the opportunity to be here. I want to give one hundred percent for a country that has given me everything.

“I see now the extreme situations in some places in the world. We should just be ready to help.”

Stoke City striker Saido Berahino said:

“I’m proud to support Amnesty International’s Football Welcomes initiative – it’s an issue that is so close to my heart.

“I grew up in Burundi and lost my father in the Civil War there. We had to leave the country in the hope of a better life and although I was separated from my mother for two years, I eventually made it to the UK.

“I’ve been given a second chance in England. I’m so grateful for the support I’ve been given and the chance to turn your life around is something that every refugee deserves.”

Crystal Palace forward Christian Benteke, whose family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was two years old said Football Welcomes is important because “refugees should be treated as normal human beings, whatever their story”.

Talking about the challenges refugees can face, he added: “I feel that if you have a dream in your head, you have to do everything you can to reach it. No matter what your background - it’s just going to be harder than others, but you can still do it.”

Participating clubs include:

AFC Wimbledon, Bath City, Blackburn Rovers, Brentford, Cambridge United, Colchester United, Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham, Huddersfield Town, Hull City, Leicester City, Newcastle United, Northampton Town, Norwich City, Notts County, Oxford United, Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth, Preston North End, QPR, Sheffield United, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Watford, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Yorkshire St Pauli, City of Liverpool FC.

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