Football day unites a league of nations

THERE are few activities that bring people together more than football.

The most widely played and most popular sport on earth, football is as much a passion in the slums of Sao Paulo, the steaming streets of Lagos, or the backstreets of Bulgaria.

And Sheffield can justly claim to be the home of the game, boasting not only the world's oldest club, Sheffield FC, but the oldest major stadium still in use today, Bramall Lane.

So it is perhaps appropriate that it was in Sheffield that a football tournament took place on Saturday drawing competitors from all over the globe – including Kurdistan, Liberia, Bangladesh and Iraq.

This year was the sixth All Nations Tournament, which featured teams of people who had fled war zones or political oppression in their homelands and have come to Sheffield in search of a new life.

They all met at Sheffield University's all-weather pitches just off Northumberland Road in Broomhill.

The tournament began as a way of bringing refugees and asylum seekers together and offering them a way to socialise and hopefully integrate better into their adoptive society.

The organiser is 27-year-old Desbon Bushiri, who fled war-torn Burundi several years ago and now works for Football Unites, Racism Divides.

He said: "I came to Sheffield eight years ago from Burundi. This part of Africa – Burundi, Rwanda, Congo – has had many problems over the past decade or so. It is very unstable.

"Back in my country I was a professional football player. When I came here I joined Sharrow United because my first address in Sheffield was Shoreham Street and Bramall Lane stadium was opposite my house.

"I said to myself 'I will play in this stadium one day.' The first season with Sharrow United I was their top scorer with 30 goals. It was too easy for me.

"So Sheffield United gave me a trial and for six months I was training with their first team. But in the end they didn't give me a contract because a decision over my asylum status was so slow in coming."

Instead Desbon played for Matlock Town, Worksop Town and for other smaller teams around the region.

Eventually he got a job with FURD and he is currently taking his coaching badges and works with community groups, including in prisons, using sport as a vehicle to promote community understanding.

Desbon said: "The All Nations Tournament is an FA-recognised tournament. Originally it was only for refugees and asylum seekers but other people join in now too.

"It was here that the African Dream Team was formed, who this year won the Meadowhall Sunday League Division Three. They won 20 out of their 22 matches.

"What we encourage people to do is not just to play here for one day, but to form themselves into teams that can compete in local leagues.

"That way they integrate better into society. We help them to affiliate to the FA and help to put them in touch with sources of funding.

"Football is an international message.

Read more on next page It brings people together."

Players are recruited with the help of a number of agencies including FURD, the Northern Refugee Centre and the asylum team at Sheffield Council.

Andy Chan, aged 26, from Sharrow, is a Sheffielder by birth. His parents came to South Yorkshire from Canton. He was playing for the Sheffield Prowlers, a team composed of the city's Chinese community.

He said: "I have come along to meet everyone. We have been playing as the Prowlers for four or five years now. I think events like this are really important because it allows people to come together and mix and enjoy themselves."

Ali Jamil, 27, from Gleadless, came to Sheffield six years ago from Kurdistan as a refugee.

He said: "One of my friends called me and asked me if I wanted to take part.

"We call ourselves the East Eagles. We are all from Kurdistan. This tournament is really good in getting people together and letting them get to know one another."

Muhammed Amhed, 25, of Greenland Drive, Darnall, came to Sheffield in 2003 as an asylum seeker from Sudan.

He said: "I had some problems in my country, but I really enjoy it here. Last year I was playing on one of the training pitches down at Sheffield United and someone asked if I would like to play in this tournament. My team are all from Sudan.

"Coming here allows me to meet people from all over Africa and the world. It is very good."

Twelve teams took part in the All Nations Tournament.

It was won by the Galeed Giants, a team composed of several nationalities, but mainly from Liberia.

They beat a Bangladeshi team 2-0 in the final.

Desbon said: "The tournament went very well. I think it is one of the best we have ever done.

"Next year we are planning to follow up the tournament with an eight-week mini-league, so it will be more than just a one-day event."


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