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Local residents, Students and Asylum Seekers & Refugees Vs 4-4-2 on Sundays

A piece by Harvey Simwate

Packhorse Vita AFC, a voluntary community football team, played in the Leeds Sunday Football League, for over 20 years.

Based at Packhorse pub opposite Leeds University, at the corner of Hyde Park, it drew players from the local communities of Hyde park, Headingley, Woodhouse and Universities of Leeds and the then Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Met), now Leeds Beckett University. These communities have a diversity of nationalities and cultures among its residents – students, local residents working and living in Leeds and Refugee and Asylum Seekers.

Packhorse Vita AFC was in a fortunate location and hosted many local residents, students and Refugee and Asylum Seekers in its football teams over a period of last 20 years. As coach, secretary and manager I tapped into the talent available and engaged and newcomers to play football for Pack Horse Vita AFC, hence creating a community of diverse individuals, socialising, training and playing football across Leeds.

The diversity of the team and talent on board attracted a mixed bag of attention from the league, other teams and their fans, ranging from racism, through chanting of derogatory names and terms, to sheer amazement at the great football this mixed bunch played. At one point we were playing in Div 3 and we outplayed all teams from the division, with scores of 13 -1, 8-0, 9-1. League officials recognised this and broke their own promotion rules and promoted the team into Div 1, skipping a whole division.

As club secretary and manager, I spent a great deal of time at disciplinary meetings mainly due to issues of diversity and cultural differences, ranging from: fines because the League secretary could not be bothered to read foreign names and reporting we had fielded unregistered players; players not appreciating that if kick-off is at 11am, then they should not be expecting the referee to wait for up to 20 minutes after official kick-off time, whilst we gathered enough players to start the game – 8 players being the minimum number; sometimes, players expected to play wearing shorts with their home nation football team colours and naively telling the referee its ok; fights broke out between players due to racists comments from opposing players, whilst the referee pretends he could not hear the racists comments being shouted at a player 15 metres away and the referee would be standing 5 metres away from the perpetrator!

Sometimes players would casually tell the referee another name, from the one that they registered with, when booked or sent off. And each booking attracted a fine and if the offending player did not pay, then the team would be fined and if fine is not paid by the offending player, then the whole team would be suspended from playing football in the league. Due to the transient nature of the players’ residence in the catchment area, some players played once, got booked or sent off and you would not see them again, causing the team fines ranging from £8 (for a yellow card) to £40 (for a red card). This was a lot of money, as the clubs finances were based on match-day subscriptions of £5 per player on match day. The subscriptions did not stretch far after paying the referee (£20), covering the pitch fee and paying for changing rooms often with blocked toilets and no running water.

Thanks to a core of players who owned and used their cars to offer lifts to players to travel to playing venues around the city of Leeds. When fewer cars were available, players squeezed into available cars and creatively, from outside the car, only five passengers could be seen but the car felt the weight of 7 players.

Through above experiences players who were from the Asylum and Refugee community started integrating with the many communities round Leeds, through playing football and accessing places in the city that they would not otherwise go under normal circumstances. Also, players from the Asylum Seekers and Refugee communities started appreciating the local culture and attitudes that were prevailing towards new communities to the city of Leeds.  In terms of hostilities to newcomers it was noticeable that the south and east sides of the city came up top.

After we had been playing in the League and having a great success on the pitch, the league introduced a rule that foreign players, should get clearance from their home FA, before playing amateur Sunday football! These ‘foreign’ players were amateurs and some of them had had no contact with their home FA in their lives. Some players had played some league football before coming to the UK, but it was at a low level and were not attached to their teams anymore. This rule was devised to limit the number of ‘foreign’ players playing in the leagues and contributing to good sides, playing good football and beating most other local teams. Instead of celebrating this diversity and quality of football, the leagues used their big hammer to crash the development of teams with diverse nationalities, with ‘funny’ sounding names, that the league secretary could not be bothered to read and recognise that they are registered names.

Over the last 20 years I counted 35 nationalities who played for Pack Horse Vita AFC and we made them very welcome, and their differences were accommodated.

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