United Glasgow uses football to support city's refugees

AS THE new football season gets underway, most amateur clubs will be content with improving on their league position last year or reaching the latter stages of a knockout competition.

Players from more than 80 countries around the world have turned out for United Glasgow FC. Picture: Keir Laird
Players from more than 80 countries around the world have turned out for United Glasgow FC. Picture: Keir Laird

But one team in Glasgow cares less about its performance on the park and more about the powerful message it sends to the rest of Scotland.

United Glasgow FC was established in 2011 with the aim of helping refugees and immigrants - many of whom had fled war-torn countries before arriving in the city.

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The multicultural club recently celebrated its fifth birthday and is now looking forward to the new season with a record number of players on its books.

“Over the years we’ve had more 80 nationalities play for the club,” said committee member Jazz Rogers. “From all across Europe, South America and Africa.

“We’re using football to challenge people’s perceptions show that individuals from different background can work together. Football fans will know how much the sport can unite people.

“We welcome anyone who celebrates our values - we’re very much an anti-discrimination team. There’s no other criteria for players apart from a desire to play football.

“They don’t need experience. They just need to commit themselves and support the values of the club.

“We have players who may have only lived in Scotland for a matter of months, but also players who were born in the city. They come from all walks of life.”

United Glasgow will this season field three men’s and one women’s team, competing in several amateur leagues across the city.

The club grew from an informal weekend kick-about organised by the Ibrox-based Unity Centre, a support service which offers practical advice to asylum seekers and other migrants in Scotland.

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Alan White, a volunteer at the centre, took the decision in 2011 to register a team in a local league.

Five years on, many of United’s players are referred to the club by organisations such as the Red Cross and the Refugee Council.

The men’s training session on a Wednesday evening regularly has more than 60 players in attendance.

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Rogers, like all of United Glasgow’s committee members and coaches, is a volunteer.

“We’re always open to more people getting involved,” the 24-year-old from Stirling said. “I had looked into doing some volunteering work while at university, and a friend suggested United Glasgow.

“I came along and loved it - and they haven’t managed to get rid of me yet.”

But what is it about football that can bring people of widely different backgrounds together?

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“It can almost be considered an international language,” Rogers said. “Sport is always a good way of bring people together as you have to work as a team and it serves as an ice-breaker.

“We have so many players who speak so many languages that usually one of them can act as an interpreter if needed.”

Like all clubs, United Glasgow is hoping the 2016-17 season will prove to be its best yet.

“We want to carry on pushing the values of anti-discrimination and continue providing a welcoming environment,” Rogers added.

“It’s more important than ever to demonstrate to people that differences don’t stop us working together.”

United Glasgow supports itself through regular fundraising events as well as an increasing amount of individual donations. But football clubs need more than money to ensure consistent success on the park.

“It’s expensive to play football,” Rogers said. “Not just the cost of hiring pitches but all the associated equipment. It all adds up.

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“We’re always looking for donations of football boots - in all sizes.

“Ultimately we want the focus to remain on football.”