The Chelsea Foundation supported the annual Football Welcomes initiative to celebrate the contribution refugee players make to the beautiful game.
As part of our ongoing work with Universal Language, a recent cohort of participants played a team representing the Arsenal Foundation at Pimlico Academy with the Blues losing the first game 7-2, before winning the next match 3-0 and securing the glory with a 3-2 win in the final match.
Backed by clubs across the country, Football Welcomes aims to highlight the important role football clubs can play in welcoming refugees and people seeking asylum into their local communities, and in helping them to settle in to a new country and culture.
Our work with Universal Language, run with the support of Battersea Arts Centre, sees participants, who have been in the country for two to three years, take part in 90 minutes a week of English lessons and 90 minutes of football coaching across a three-month period.
Football Welcomes marks the anniversary of the arrival in the United Kingdom of a group of child refugees from the Spanish Civil War in 1937, six of whom went on to play professional football in England.
It is organised by Amnesty International, with Chelsea Women’s defender Anita Asante – an ambassador for the charity – welcoming the support for the campaign. She said: ‘It can take a lot of integrity and courage to stand up against divisive and hateful actions and rhetoric, but as football players, teams and fans it's important we all play our part.
‘Lots of people identify with football, wherever they are from and whatever their background. That's why it's so heartening to see the footballing community come together for a weekend of welcoming and supporting refugees.’
The team representing Chelsea last weekend hail from a host of countries including Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan and senior social inclusion officer Andrew Ducille explained the significance of the programme.
He said: ‘The sessions are crucial for bringing people together. They have similar backgrounds and become friends, giving them a sense of community.
‘Learning English is crucial for their new lives but the football ensures they build relationships and learn to support each other – of course they also have to use English on the pitch!
‘The first cohort of participants have now finished and they were the ones playing Arsenal, while they also travelled to Leicester recently for another mini-tournament.’