Refugees welcome

This Saturday there will be banners at Carrow Road showing support for the thousands of refugees currently fleeing their homelands. Thomas Markham-Uden, of the Barclay End Projekt, explains why sport and politics must mix

Football is many things to many people. For some it is an obsessively followed pastime, for others a medium of entertainment in which one has a cursory interest.

And in an environment where the top level of the game in this country is marketed using the hyperbolic adjectives of a summer movie blockbuster, it is also easy – and to a degree understandable – to forget that football is more than merely the glitz and glamour of the Premier League.

For hundreds of thousands of people across the country, their football club is a part of their community. The beating heart that breeds and sustains jobs, friendships and pride in something that can be referred to as being one’s own.

Football clubs have been at the heart of towns and cities from Plymouth to Peterhead ever since their working-class inhabitants claimed the game as their own. An escape from the mundane drudgery of day-to-day life, football became a haven for those pushed down by wider society.

It has also been, almost since the dawn of the sport, a hotbed of political activity.

Evidence of this may be increasingly rare in our sanitised football landscape, but football and politics are intrinsically linked, as much as some would disingenuously disagree or wish this not to be the case. On the continent the political facet of the game has been continuously present – from Union Berlin fans using the terraces of their stadium to rally against the oppressive forces of the GDR in the 1980s, to thousands of Malmo supporters standing up against far-right groups in Sweden last season – fans of teams on the continent have embraced their clubs’ standing within their community and utilised it as a platform to enact issues of progressive social responsibility.

This social responsibility is something that is currently incredibly pertinent.

Thousands of displaced refugees and migrants from across Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans are at a point when the only viable option open to them, due to a myriad of reasons from war to economic circumstances, is to undertake a life-threatening journey in search of assistance and asylum.  Thousands have died and continue to die while privileged people pontificate over the “legitimacy” of an individual’s claim to asylum and reduce human beings to dehumanising statistics in a game of political point-scoring.

That is why – seizing on the sport’s standing and reach within society – supporters across the country, and at Carrow Road, will display banners at matches this weekend that read “Refugees Welcome.”

As part of the Barclay End Projekt, I and the rest of the group endorse this campaign. While generally an apolitical group, this transcends standard political divisions and is a argument of human decency.

Writer Teju Cole recently stated, “I say refugee, I say migrant, I say neighbour, I say friend, because everyone is deserving of dignity… And more than ‘refugee’ or ‘migrant,’ I say ‘people,’ and say it with compassion because everyone I love, and everyone they love has at some point said tearful goodbyes and moved from place to place to seek new opportunities, and almost all of them have by their movement improved those new places. Because I reject the poverty of a narrowly defined ‘we’ that robs me of human complexity.”

My football club represents my local community and it is important that my local community opens its arms to those who are in need.

I can think of no better mouthpiece, no better stage to announce this than in the stands of that same club, and I hope that supporters up and down the country follow suit.

Football should be for everyone. So should the right to a humane existence. Let’s use the former to show that we value the latter.

Thomas Uden tweets at @_thomasej

You can follow the Barclay End Projekt at @BE_Projekt