How Sheffield is using power of football to help refugees feel at home

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp holds aloft an inflatable trophy in Milton Keynes, where the Blades won 3-0 (Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp holds aloft an inflatable trophy in Milton Keynes, where the Blades won 3-0 (Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

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Football fans in Sheffield have been helping refugees feel at home by introducing them to the joys and occasional despair of life on the stands.

A small group of new arrivals to the city have been enjoying the Blades' success this season, with long-term supporters helping them settle in.

They travelled to watch the MK Dons game this weekend so they could continue to enjoy the promotion party.

More Sheffield United supporters are now wanted by Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD), the Sharrow-based charity which runs the project, to accompany refugees to games and introduce them to local football culture.

The trip to Milton Keynes was part of Amnesty International's Football Welcomes scheme, which seeks to embrace the power of sport to help newcomers fleeing human rights abuses and civil war adjust to their new surroundings.

Events are being held across the country this weekend to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to the beautiful game since the Second World War.

They mark the 80th anniversary of the arrival of child refugees from the Spanish Civil War, who would become some of the first refugees to play professional football on these shores.

Youngsters evacuated to the UK after the infamous bombing of Guernica on April 26, 1937 would go on to play for teams from Coventry City to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Sheffield was one of the cities where young refugees were taken in and which their descendants continue to call home.

FURD, which receives funding from the Premier League Fans Fund, says while rival fans may occasionally clash over football it also has the ability to cross divides and bring people together.

Dr Chris Stone, the charity's lead researcher, said: "Football is played and consumed in similar ways throughout the world. It can transcend language difficulties and other cultural differences.

"We must be careful of some of the more negative aspects of the sport, and of society more widely, but it is important to keep celebrating the positives that bring people together."

For more about FURD, and to find out how you can help refugees develop a love for the English game, visit www.furd.org.

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