Finally the day of the big match had arrived.
Not a crucial decider at Euro 2016 – but Plymouth Hope FC vs a football therapy group from charity Freedom from Torture.
The matches kicked off Refugee Week, the international week which celebrates the positive contribution that refugees make to society.
And, though there was no national pride at stake – with both teams made up of people from many countries – there was a healthy competitive spirit on show.
Before the match, the visitors were also treated to a tour of the Emirates Stadium, sitting in the same changing rooms used by international stars such as Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud.
While the London-based Freedom from Torture team had home advantage, they lacked the experience of the 11-a-side teamwork of Plymouth Hope. In their two 30-minute matches they were beaten 4-1 and 3-1.
Plymouth Hope FC
Plymouth Hope FC is a not-for-profit voluntary organisation. It’s run by a team of enthusiastic volunteers who all share a love of football and believe in social equality.
The club is made up of players from a variety of ethnic and social backgrounds, and from a host of countries around the world. The diverse mix means the teams play with a unique style and flair.
Many Hope FC players have been supported by the British Red Cross Welcome Project. The Welcome Project started in Plymouth in September 2013 and is the first of its kind in the UK.
Every new asylum seeker is met by a Red Cross volunteer on the day of their arrival, welcomed, and given a practical tour of the city and its services. Gradually our volunteers help and encourage people to pursue their interests and many are referred to Plymouth Hope FC.
A word from the gaffer
After the match, David Feindouno, from the Red Cross and also founder of Plymouth Hope FC, said:
“It went really well. I’d say 70 per cent of the players are Arsenal supporters so there were a few emotions apparent when we went into the changing rooms and sat where their footballing idols sit before a match.
“They all loved it. We also had some local lads who joined us on the trip so, in the true spirit of Refugee Week, new friendships were made and new links established.
“The teams did really well. They were so happy to win both games and there was so much celebratory chatter on the bus home that it got quite noisy!
“On another positive note, we’ve recently set up a female team, with indoor sessions to make them accessible for women who wouldn’t be able to practice outdoors because of cultural barriers.
“Arsenal is really interested in what we’re doing and we’re hoping to work with them in the next few months to develop that.”
Some of the Freedom from Torture team expressed disappointment at their defeat. But therapist Selcuk Berilgen was upbeat:
“The guys played with spirit and I am proud of them.”
“But we do lack the experience of playing 11-a-side on the bigger pitch. That’s something that will come in time.
“The important thing is we enjoyed the games and meeting with Plymouth Hope and we will definitely try to keep in touch.”
- Read more stories from Refugee Week
- Find out how to support refugees and asylum seekers in your area as a volunteer
- Donate to our Europe Refugee Crisis Appeal to help refugees and asylum seekers here in the UK and overseas.
- Freedom from Torture is a medical foundation for the care of victims of torture.
Photos © Arsenal FC and British Red Cross.