Atlanta’s refugees get surprise of a lifetime

Photo : www.fifa.com
www.fifa.com|14-Aug-2019 11:32

-Manchester City are embarking on a trophy tour across the globe
-Recently they visited Clarkston, Atlanta, a long-time haven for refugees in the area
-FIFA.com was there to witness the special event

Football is what keeps them going.”

Atlanta's Clarkston Community Centre sits in the middle of the most diverse square mile in the entire United States.

Children and teenagers scamper down a dirt path cleared out in the middle of trees and shrubbery, some with skateboards in hand, some on bikes and others carrying soccer balls. They spill out one by one onto a football pitch, their haven.

On this day, they’re in for a treat; a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the eve of the 2019/20 Premier League season, Manchester City’s trophies are not in Manchester. They're here.

Shaun Wright-Phillips, now based in Phoenix, Arizona, is taking part in the USA leg of his former club's trophy tour, where they are showcasing several of their trophies from an extremely successful 2018/19 campaign. Their latest stop took them to Clarkston, the heartbeat location of Soccer in the Streets, an established organisation supported by the FIFA Foundation that is all about creating opportunities for the inner-city youth to play the beautiful game.

“It’s very important for me to be here,” former City player Shaun Wright-Phillips told FIFA.com. “These are values that Manchester City believe in. This is where a lot of the greatest players come from [grassroots programmes], people picking up a ball pretty much anywhere, finding a piece of grass, and lucky enough they have goals here. It’s nice to see it still happening in some places."

“There’s a lot of different cultures here, but once you’re on the pitch you understand the game and you understand how to play football and how to appreciate your team-mates."

Many of us will never understand the stresses of refugee life. Many of the children may not know one another's mother language, but what was clear to see this afternoon was that they all speak the language of football.

Abdul Bangura, who played professionally for the Atlanta Silverbacks and once for the Sierra Leone national team, is now the head coach of a high school team in the Clarkston area. A living example for all the kids in his programme, Bangura is a refugee who came to the USA and paved a way for himself to play professionally. He is now giving back and coaching for Soccer in the Streets in his spare time.

"On our team we have about 12 different languages spoken but we all come together because of the ball," Bangura said. "Soccer has brought us together. I’m beyond happy right now to see this. For Man City to come here—this will give some of them extra motivation to push through.”

Bangura's team play a full-sided game as Wright-Phillips and two Manchester City coaches watch on. The team is made up of refugees from Sierra Leone, Congo, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and beyond. "We all came here as refugees, but definitely they've been playing football all their lives and from war-town countries," added Bangura. "Football is what keeps them going."

Bangura stressed that most of his players will be the first in their families to go to college. And although not all of them will make it as a professional, the coaches at Soccer in the Streets do all they can to give them the chance.

"You can only have an opportunity like this one time," said Bangura. "I told them [his players] that this opportunity will never come back, so enjoy these moments. So far, seeing the way they’re playing, I’m surprised. They’re playing good football! They’re passing and enjoying the moment. This is a lifetime memory they’re having right now. I’m sure they’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives. This is incredible and fantastic.”

While Bangura's team scrimmaged, younger children were seen posing for photographs with the trophies, up close with the silverware they thought they'd only ever see on TV. Several of them could be heard asking, “Is this real?”

"They get here, they get to see the Premier League trophy, and it’s something that possibly in their lifetime they might be able to achieve," said Wright-Phillips. "If that’s what you want to achieve, this is where it all starts.

“I never had anything like this happen to me when I was growing up. They get to see it and believe it."