With Gary Lineker raising the plight of refugees and being pilloried for it, Andrew Lawn asks what do refugees and immigration have to do with football? Everything.
A few months ago the official Norwich City FC twitter account shut down a bigot who asked what Pride had to do with football with one word; “everything”.
I was reminded of that this week, as The S*n and others pilloried Gary Lineker for daring to show compassion for refugees.
Along with the predictably ignorant abuse, Lineker has repeatedly been asked what that has to do with football and that he should stick to having opinions on his former profession and nothing else.
What has the plight of refugees have to do with football? Everything.
Football is all about community. We support our local football team, because it is a physical embodiment of the community we live in.
A football team is a group of individuals, from a variety of backgrounds, coming together as a team, focused on achieving success.
The act of showing compassion for and welcoming refugees is exactly the same: getting disparate people working together to a common goal – in this case to end unnecessary human suffering.
Whatever your political persuasion, no-one would wish suffering on a fellow human being and that is all Lineker has asked for in promoting the plight of these desperate people.
The suggestion that Gary has no right to call for this and should instead “stick to football”, is laughable, we don’t tell our friend Alan to shut up about his opinion on Cameron Jerome and stick to telling us about payroll do we? We all have opinions and, at least at the moment, we live in a time when we’re free to air them .If Gary Lineker wants to use his platform to raise the plight of those without a voice, good for him.
It strikes me that of all the areas of life that might be hostile to refugees, and immigration generally, that football is one. It is often said that football and politics shouldn’t mix, which ignores the fact that football has been political since its inception as a game by the people for the people.
While week after week, radio phone-ins, social media and pubs up and down the country are filled with excited talk of potential new signings or investment from abroad, without a hint of irony.
As fans, we have long recognised the positive contribution people from places other than Britain have made to the game we love. Think how much weaker City would be without Timm Klose, Ivo Pinto, Martin Olsson, Alex Tettey, Youssef Mulumbu even Wes, all of whom came here from outside the UK.
You might argue that elite athletes aren’t part of the same issue raised by Lineker, but that would be to discount the massive contribution former refugees have made to the game in this country.
Our own Kei Kamara for example, who City signed from Kansas City in January 2013.
Little was known about the Sierra Leone international, whose enthusiastic playing style and off-field personality, made him a fans’ favourite during his 6 month loan spell.
Kamara, who became the first Sierra Leonian to score a Premier League goal when he smashed an 84th minute equalising header past Everton’s Tim Howard, in a game we would go on to win 2-1, fled his homeland as a teenage refugee.
“He’s sitting in class and they hear explosions and they start running away,” Dave LaMattina, who directed a documentary helpfully named ‘Kei’ (which tells the story of Kamara’s journey from refugee to national superstar), told the BBC.
“He’s jumping over dead bodies and loses his brothers and has to go back to find them. Ever since the day bombs started exploding around schools he was a refugee.”
Kamara’s journey took him first to Gambia, before on to the US, where the opportunity to display his sporting prowess ultimately led to him nodding home in front of the River End, to the delight of Carrow Road and an adoring public back home.
Sierra Leone sports journalist Peter Makieu told the BBC: “For every Norwich City match the cinemas were packed with people watching Kei Kamara, when he scored against Everton the whole country was delighted. I couldn’t hold on to my emotions. Nobody cared about Norwich. But now everyone in Sierra Leone wants to watch Norwich play”.
It’s not just Kamara either. Saido Berahino, Fabrice Muamba, Shefki Kuqi, Maria Stanic, Lauren, Lorik Cana, Lomano LuaLua, Calvin Zola, Nashat Akram, Sharu Naraji, Islam Feruz, Abdisalam Ibrahim and Liban Abdi were all refugees who were forced to flee their homelands – the first two of which have since gone on to represent the England national team.
It’s no surprise there is copious amounts of talent amongst refugees given that a recent IPSOS Mori Survey carried out with refugees who had settled here showed that 42 per cent of respondents said that football was one of the three things they liked most about living in Britain.
What does not turning our backs on people and welcoming refugees have to do with football?