The link between non-league football and the current Syrian refugee crisis may not be immediately obvious, but then FC United of Manchester have never been a football club that unthinkingly conforms to the norm.
The Vanarama National League North side, created in 2005 out of a feeling of alienation from the corporate riches of Manchester United, have been displaying a simple message from the stands since the start of this season.
Adorned on several flags around Broadhurst Park, the image of three refugees with red scarves round their necks is simple, and so is the message: ‘Refugees Welcome’.
Press and Communications Officer Andy Walker spoke to MM, explaining that Manchester’s proud tradition as a haven, as well as the club’s roots, makes FC United an ideal club to display such a message.
“Our club was born out of disenfranchisement,” he said.
“We feel an affinity with those that have fallen on hard times; we want to reach out to people and raise awareness of the issue.”
The organisers of the #RefugeesWelcome (@RefugeesEFL) campaign have suggested that the apparent dichotomy between football and solidarity with refugees is what has brought the campaign to the wider attention.
Dena Nakeeb, who runs the Facebook page, explained to the Guardian: “It’s not just the imagery behind manly blokes holding banners supporting an issue which is so poignant at the moment – it’s the fact we as the British public are showing solidarity.”
The #RefugeesWelcome campaign has gained traction on social media over the last few days, with Aston Villa and Glasgow Celtic the two most prominent clubs to display their support for the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
As Walker pointed out, the latter will be donating their share of proceeds from a testimonial game this weekend to those affected by the crisis.
Overseas, FC United find themselves in stellar company, with German giants Bayern Munich set to donate €1m to refugee projects, as well as setting up a ‘training camp’ for those arriving in Germany.
While Germany’s football supporters are often deemed to be streets ahead of their English counterparts in initiatives such as this, those at Broadhurst Park have begun to address the balance somewhat, acting as a source of hope to those who claim that positive aspects of cohesive English fan culture are on the wane.
— #RefugeesWelcome EFL (@RefugeesEFL) September 3, 2015
The organisers of the campaign want next weekend’s matches to double-up as a day of action to assist those affected, something that FC United will ‘definitely look to be a part of’.
Walker was also keen to emphasise that whilst for other clubs September 12’s day of action may be a one-off, for FC United, the theme of inclusion runs right through the club’s DNA.
Evidence of this can be found with the ‘we are all immigrants’ banner that has stood amongst fans for many years.
The club are also in dialogue with Refugee Action to see how they can carry the movement forward.
While supporters and players higher up the football pyramid may be concerned about falling foul of regulations concerning the display of political images, FC United’s status as a supporter-led club ensures they have no such worries.
“What happens in our ground is down to our club,” he said.
“We reflect the views of our own supporters – we couldn’t do anything else.”
Once again, whilst other clubs wait for the go-ahead from above, FC United are only too happy to go it alone in order to fight for what they believe in.
Image courtesy of srf via YouTube, with thanks.