First refugee football team set to make debut in the Liverpool County Premier League this weekend
A team originally set up to help Syrian refugees will make their debut as Phoenix FC in the Liverpool County Premier League this weekend - after four years of hard work.
A football coach who set up a club to help the wellbeing of Syrian refugees is to see them play their first official league game this weekend.
Malik Al Shhadat set up Syria Football Club, now known as Phoenix FC, in 2017, when he began communicating with the Syrian community in Liverpool.
“I wanted to invite them to play football so we could help each other to get rid of the negative effects the war left on us and be part of the local community,” he told LiverpoolWorld.
Al Shhadat, who arrived in the UK as a refugee with his family in 2017, said the refugees did not initially know each other but all entered the UK via the Home Office’s resettlement programme.
The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees over a seven-year period from 2014 to 2021.
Why was the team set up?
Al Shhadat said: “A lot of our players are frustrated and have no self-confidence because of what they’ve been through during the tough times of the war.
“Despite that, I have not given up and continue to encourage them and communicate with them constantly.”
In 2019, he studied to get his FA Level 1 certificate in coaching football: “It was difficult because my English wasn’t brilliant at the time, but I’ve worked on it and it has really improved.
“Football has allowed me to find something so we can integrate and make a positive impact in Liverpool.”
Al Shhadat got in touch with the Liverpool Football Association (FA), which runs football sessions for refugees in Liverpool and Halton, to explain what he had been doing.
Liverpool FA Football Development Manager, Tony Smith, said: “Malik contacted us and said his team wanted to join the local league so we put him in touch with the Liverpool County Premier League (CPL).”
Liverpool CPL offered Al Shhadat a mentor and support on how to get up to speed with the administrative side of running a team.
Smith said over 200 refugees play on a weekly basis as part of the Liverpool FA programme which also partners with Liverpool and Everton Football clubs and Amnesty International UK.
“It has been incredible to see the elevated self-esteem of the refugees, football has offered a form of social cohesion and in some of the sessions we see people playing with each other even though their countries may be at war.
“They are breaking down barriers, they just want to look after themselves and their families. Football is also good for their wellbeing and keeps them active.
“We are very excited about this weekend because it will be the first time a team of refugees will be playing in the league.” Smith explained.
Funding Phoenix FC
Liverpool FA has helped with initial fees and donated a generic kit to get the club started, but Phoenix FC are looking for a local sponsor to help with ongoing costs.
The club now has 47 players aged 16 and over who train twice a week at the Tiber Football Centre in Toxteth and will play in the Liverpool County Premier League Division Two this season.
Liverpool CPL Chair, Pat Farrell, said: “We are so pleased to offer Phoenix FC this opportunity, they had been playing recreationally for a while, so it is great they can now move into organised football.”
Farrell explained that other clubs in the league have been made aware that a team of refugees will be joining them this weekend for the first time.
He said: “We explained that some speak great English but many might not and there is an experienced referee working on the game who has been briefed.”
Afghan refugees welcome
Al Shhadat said: “We have players of different nationalities, but most of the players are still from Syria and I would also like to encourage refugees from Afghanistan to get involved.
“We have 53 young players of different ages and we formed four teams of children from ages six to 15.
“I have divided them into several teams according to the age group and I train them once every Sunday.
“Unfortunately, they will not play in a league this year due to the financial condition of the club but I will work on doing that next year for people who want to join.
“I just want to give back because my family and I have been offered the chance to start a good life again.”
Phoenix FC will play in the Liverpool CPL second division against Edge Hill Boys Club Old Boys on Saturday, 4 September, 13.00 kick off.
You can see the league table and other fixtures on fulltime.thefa,com