FURD's trip to the Liberte Cup unites refugees and football fans

11 Jan 2017 / News

In September 2016, London based charity Fuze, in partnership with online football media platform Copa90, organised The Liberte Cup as a consequence of their engagement work during the previous 12 months or so with refugees living in a camp in Grande Synthe near Dunkirk in northern France.

Due to our extensive work with refugees in Sheffield, FURD was invited to participate and took a team of young people to play in the tournament as well as spending a day volunteering in the camp. The tournament was filmed and forms part of a short documentary aiming to raise awareness around the plight of refugees in Europe, available to watch throughout 2017 on the ITV Hub. A shorter version can also be viewed on the Copa90 website. Follow the links below to watch the films.

In October 2015 Fuze Beyond Borders was created with the mission of providing humanitarian aid and empowerment to refugees residing in the Grande Synthe Camp on the outskirts of Dunkirk. One of their earliest projects was to develop an area for playing football within the camp. Regular aid trips to Northern France to provide donations of food, clothing and other essentials was combined with the organisation of football training sessions for those living in the camp. As a way of motivating refugees demoralized by their situation a football tournament was arranged to which FURD were invited.

The primary aim of The Liberte Cup was to bring together organisations working with football to challenge prejudice and raise awareness of the issues facing refugees living in camps on the other side of the channel. FURD took a multi-ethnic team to the refugee camp in Grande Synthe on the outskirts of Dunkirk and donated sports clothing given to us by Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield FC.

The structure of the tournament was such that each team was comprised of members of the organisations participating and refugees from the camp. The FURD side included four refugees; an 'old head' at the back playing alongside a rather hot-headed defensive partner, a hard working midfielder and a single-minded striker whose pace and determination helped the FURD team reach the final. Due to their situation they must unfortunately remain anonymous.

For the FURD representatives themselves it was an opportunity for the likes of Fahran Khan to take on responsibilities they wouldn't normally. Substituting himself in and out of the team as fitness and the dynamics of the match dictated he helped protect the FURD goal at crucial times. When the defence was breached, Jawad Akhtar in goal pulled off excellent saves and was crucial in the penalty shoot-out that settled the final.

It was a final that pitched FURD against Freedom United - the team representing the refugee camp itself. The crowd, understandably, were supporting the opposition and the FURD victory had the potential to spoil the party. Not for the refugees playing for the winning team, who had something to celebrate for the first time in a while. Whilst the players representing Freedom United, including a couple of FURD ringers, were naturally disappointed, the tournament was much more than a sporting competition. It was an example of how football, when structured and organised in a certain way, can bring people together: intensely emotional, unforgettably welcoming and joyfully competitive.

The trip was supported by Sheffield Futures and provided participants with different experiences. It not only offered young people volunteering with FURD a better understanding of the issues facing refugees and the crisis across Europe but also provided an opportunity to build confidence and take on responsibilities that would benefit them on their return.

"The trip to France was a great experience. I learnt a lot about how life is for the refugees and it made me feel happy to be making a difference somehow. I had an amazing time socialising with them and especially being able to play a football tournament with new people. I would love to go visit them again soon and see how things are." (Hanan).

"It was an eye opening experience. It made me value the things I once took for granted." (Waqas)

"It was fun having the teams mixed and through that getting to meet so many people and the spirit of the tournament was so friendly and welcoming. The whole experience was really eye-opening as well and I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in it.". (James Harrison)

"It was an amazing trip. When we met the brothers at the camps it really got to me, to see how they were living there. I would want to thank Football Unites and their staff for giving me a chance to be captain and other responsibilities. Thanks FURD." (Fahran).

Please visit our Facebook and Twitter feeds below to see photos from the trip.