Football For All – Removing Borders

For the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of spending time talking to other football groups such as United Glasgow and Mount Pleasant Park for my postgrad dissertation. I’ve also spent time applying for funding and chatting with funding providers and mentors. This has allowed me space to conceptualise what we are, where we’re at and what we’re trying to achieve.                                    

‘Football For All’ was started by a few of us at Yorkshire St. Pauli primarily as a means of connecting with refugees and asylum seekers who did not have the resources to access regular structured football. Our aim was fairly a simple one; to remove the barriers to football for refugees and asylum seekers. We did this by hanging out at the PAFRAS drop-in centre and letting the service users know that if they fancied a kick-about on a Sunday we’d pick them up and provide them with kit and cover the pitch cost.

As I’ve previously said in another blog (see Here) this was never an act of charity. Instead we saw this as a form of solidarity, a form of sharing something that we love with people who don’t have the resources to access it. The idea that someone who loves football can’t access it just because they were born in another country was something that deeply frustrated us and was one of the main motivations for getting off our arses and doing something.  

We originally joined a 5-a-side league but we found this problematic on three fronts. Firstly, we were getting smashed 26-0 every week (I seem to remember our best score being a 12-7 defeat which we were all super proud of). Secondly, we grew in popularity very quickly and we had about 12 players in our squad so ensuring game time was a nightmare. Thirdly, the rampant sexism, racism and homophobia, ultra competitiveness and macho bullshit in these sorts of leagues was precisely what we were trying to stay clear of. So after a few weeks we decided we had enough people involved to do our own thing and started a regular kick-about session on a Sunday at Powerleague in Leeds. 
The aim of this was to create an environment that promoted the values and politics that for the most part appear absent in organised football. As well as breaking down barriers for refugees and asylum seekers to play football, we are also concerned with creating an alternative where people can feel relaxed and enjoy doing something that they love.
What started out as a focus primarily on refugees and asylum seekers (this focus is still absolutely fundamental) has grown to be an environment that everyone can feel comfortable in and contribute towards.

Over the past few months I’ve realised more than ever before that our ‘Football For All project’ does just as much for a lot of participants who have lived in Yorkshire all their lives as it does for refugees and asylum seekers. This is because we have created new social norms within our environment where the emphasis is not on ability instead it is on fostering friendship. This has allowed people who may have felt like their face hasn’t fit into traditional Sunday league football to be active and connect with football again. 

This may make our project sound like a bunch misfits having a kick-about. But I firmly believe that there are more ‘misfits’ like us than there are people who tick all the boxes to play regular football for a Sunday league team. In tackling racism, sexism and LGBT issues we are more representative of people who love playing football than some of the teams we played in 5-a-side leagues will ever be. 

So what now? 

Over the past few months we have grown considerably to the point where we are getting 20-30 participants on a weekly basis. We have got to the point where although we’re financially sustainable (just) we need to look at growing. We have recently teamed up with the Hamara Centre in Leeds who have provided us with some funding via the Ignite funding scheme. With Hamara we are looking at ways we can expand with a strong possibility of moving to a couple of sessions a week.

They have also provided us with a mentor who works as a youth scout for Manchester City who has an array of contacts that could help us grow. We are looking at broadening out to perhaps include educational elements like our friends at United Glasgow do. 

We believe that working with other groups and with funding co-ordinators we will be able to replicate our project and the success it has had in various other cities across the region.

However, we will always maintain the ethos we have fostered at ‘Football For All’ and it will never feel more than a bunch of mates having a kick-about. After all ‘Football For All’ doesn’t belong to a couple of us, it belongs to everyone that contributes whether it be playing on a Sunday or simply retweeting our poster from the other side of the world.

Note – there is no Football For All kick about this Sunday due to a charity match organised with Suma Co-Op, see below poster. Please come along, attend, or even join our team!  

Chris YSP