Football clubs should be commended on their charitable donations of free tickets to various individuals and community groups but unfortunately it tends to be on an occasional basis and too infrequent for 'non-traditional' fans to develop a sense of belonging within local supporter culture. Devotion to your team and the relationships that come with it take place over a sustained period of time.
Following the 'refugees welcome' campaigns initiated by football fans across Europe at the beginning of the 2015/16 football season as a reaction to the growing refugee 'crisis', we want to develop a more long term approach to developing relationships between football fans and refugees in Sheffield. With the help of existing dedicated football supporters, the aim of FURD's new project is to work with a small group of refugees and asylum seekers to explore whether a season of regular attendance helps mutual integration.
Funded by the Premier League Fans Fund, the Football Supporting Refugees project is a season long programme encouraging football fans in Sheffield to engage with refugees and asylum seekers living in the city by attending matches together on a regular basis. More than that it is about supporting more involvement in the whole match day experience. This may involve discussing with other fans the team selection or performances of the players over a drink before or after the match. Where cultural and religious barriers exist, it may be offering alternative provision for such important interactive aspects of fan culture to take place: going for a meal or sitting in a cafe rather than the convention of arguing such opinions over a pint in the pub.
Furthermore, we aim to develop a Refugee Supporters Club that will organise events to help raise awareness about issues relating to forced migration. It will also offer a point of contact for football fans wishing to help out in some way but not knowing where to start. Finally, such a development will provide opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to take some control over a small aspect of their lives as they battle against the whims of foreign and domestic policy and are often victimised by a British population not given the full reality concerning issues around migration.
We welcome any supporters who go to Bramall Lane regularly to contact us and volunteer to help new arrivals feel more welcome by going to a match with them and educating them on local football culture and history. Match tickets can be provided where necessary as well as expenses. In return, supporters will be enriched by the experience of engaging with individuals from all over the world who have incredible experiences and are genuinely grateful for the sanctuary that is offered, of which British people should be proud.
Fans from further afield are also encouraged to get in touch to offer support or seek advice. Please contact Chris Stone at FURD on 0114 258 7787 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information about football and asylum seekers can be found in the 'Football - A shared sense of belonging?' research report - see link below.