PL Kicks: Taking a look back

Taking a look back on how PL Kicks has strengthened our community. Here is a story about differences and togetherness.

Amjad is a refugee from Syria and migrated to England with his family. Amjad played football every Sunday in his home town growing up, however due to the conflict he had to stop playing football and then leave his home and friends.

Amjad found out about the Blackpool FC Community Trust’s Premier League Kicks sessions when he received a leaflet at school. Following this he came down with his brother, Ahmed. They were welcomed to the Kicks session held at Sports Barn on a Friday evening, by Joe, who is the lead Kicks coach. Amjad could speak very little English which meant that he was initially lacking in confidence and struggling to integrate into the community.

Despite the linguistic barriers Amjad and Ahmed clearly enjoyed playing a team sport with other young people. The following week the brothers returned and brought three other Syrian refugees with them. This initially caused conflict as the Syrians felt more comfortable playing on the same team and speaking their own language (Arabic). The local, established Kick’s participants complained that they could not understand the Syrian refugees and felt uneasy. Amjad says of this time, “When I first started, some of the kids were being mean to me – maybe it was because I was different to everyone else.”

The coach, Joe, identified that this could escalate and cause racial tension and decided to split the Syrian refugees throughout the teams to help aid integration. “The Syrian refugees were clearly reluctant to play in the same teams as the local boys and girls. I forced everybody to play together in the same teams which they didn’t like at first, however by the end of the session all the kids were playing together and playing as a team. They loved it.”

As the Syrian refugees became assimilated into the teams in small numbers, communication ceased to be a barrier and they began to work together learning key words in each other’s language. They have become a positive addition to the group.  Harry Gayton,  one of the regular participants and  a Kicks volunteer said, “Amjad has integrated in the local community really well. He gets on well with all the lads.”

The increase in number of the refugees and their successful integration into the Kicks community has helped local community cohesion. The refugees have given the opportunity to local participants to better understand the world that they come from. As their language skills have improved they have spoken to other participants about being Muslims. This became particularly necessary during a Claremont Park evening session during Ramadan as the Syrian refugees were fasting.  The coach Chris, gave, advice to the Syrian refugees and told them to take as many breaks as necessary as they may become dehydrated as the weather was hot and they were not eating or drinking. The other participants were curious and the Syrian refugees were very happy to explain Ramadan to them.  Chris says, “Great to see so many young people talking about each other’s cultures and fascinated by each other’s beliefs” 

Jane Bentley who worked on the Syrian resettlement project said, “I think it has been great for the boys to open up through leisure activities, football is a great leveller and helps bring the community together.”

Blackpool FC Community Trust strive to ensure continued participation by the refugees given how much value both them and the other participants have gained through their engagement.

On the 8th June 2017 a Kicks match was organised at Bloomfield Road between Blackpool FC Community Trust and Preston North End Community Trust in which Amjed and three other Syrian refugees took part. Amjad says, “It was good. I enjoyed it because I have never played in a football stadium before. The stadium was big and I was happy to experience playing at Blackpool FC.”

The Kicks programme continues to enable two groups, where there has been tension, to come together. Amjad himself has developed from a shy 12 year old to a happy and confident member of the group. As his friend, Harry also says of Amjad, “He’s always got a smile on his face and his football ability has also improved. He could be a future star, definitely and I’m glad I met him because I consider him as a good friend.”

Keep your eyes open for new up to date information about our next steps to getting PL Kicks up and running again.