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Ipswich Town of Sanctuary 5-a-side Football Team – Review of the Season

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Ipswich Town of Sanctuary 5-a-side Football Team – Review of the Season

During these last few months it has been a privilege to get to know the many boys who turned out for the football team over the season. The bare scorelines of 6 defeats were not really what this team was about… It was a chance for the boys to form a team, a community, around a shared interest.

Football has the power to unite people from many nations as we saw in this year’s World Cup in South Africa. And whilst the skills of the boys from Afghanistan and Eritrea did not match those of Kaka, Lionel Messi or Diego Forlan, their passion for football, their joy and enthusiasm when playing and their positive attitudes in the face of tough games and harsh tackling was something to admire.

Along with the weekly football practices in Alexandra Park, the matches in the church 5-a-side league helped to bond the boys as a group and forged strong links with the generous and caring people of St John’s URC who always went along to support the boys, drive them up to the games, inviting them to their homes for food and helping them to learn English at ‘It’s Tuesday’ run at St John’s URC.

My wife Leanne and I were impressed with how polite, considerate and welcoming the boys were and how they always made an effort to speak some English. On one occasion when I visited them they had run out of drinks, so one of the boys went straight down to the shops to get me a can of coke! Their love of football is only matched by their love of food and of hospitality.

After one match, the boys came back to our house for food (halal chicken curry) and all 12 of them finished off the food and our fruit bowl- the fruit in it, rather than the bowl itself! During these times we heard some stories about the horrendous experiences some of the boys had in Afghanistan and their journey to the UK. Some had seen their parents killed, one boy had to spend a couple of days and nights in the boot of a car travelling across borders without food or water, another had jumped from the back of a lorry and smashed his ankle. A boy from Eritrea missed one of our matches to have a piece of shrapnel removed from his shoulder which he sustained in an explosion back home when he was just 14 years old. Despite these experiences they were always smiling and knew how to have fun. To see them playing on our Nintendo Wii and working out how to operate the controllers, joking with one another in their own language was great to see.

One of the greatest frustration for the boys living in Ipswich was the amount of free time they had. Without football or English classes, too many days would drift by. Often they’d explore what was going on in the town centre, or they’d sit in their lodgings watching Mr Bean.

As the summer progressed, some of the regular players in the football team dropped out as they were no longer supported by Social Services so were forced to move on. Many moved to Birmingham, London and Manchester- it was sad to see them go. I checked on the welfare of a couple of them as they were nearing the age of 17 when their Discretionary Leave was due to run out.

Unaccompanied minors are more at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. It makes me wonder if they’ll ever truly find a community that they will feel a valuable part of. Groups of unaccompanied minors are transitory communities which can form and disband very quickly as they choose to move on or are forced to move on by the British Government.

What next for the football team? For now, St John’s URC is forming links with the new unaccompanied minors, refugees and asylum seekers that are moving into Ipswich and running English classes under the name of ‘It’s Tuesday’ every Tuesday afternoon from 21st September.
Leanne and I are expecting our first baby in November and we thought we’d wait for a few months before we set up a new team, hopefully with a new group of boys who’ve attended ‘It’s Tuesday’ at St John’s. We’ll keep you posted.


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