It has been a summer of football with the EURO 2024 Championships taking place in Germany. I am sure the vast majority of us have watched England slumber their way into the knockout phases of the tournament with a team lacking the confidence and energy to take on the might that Europe has to offer.

One place that doesn’t suffer from a lack of football oomph, passion and energy is the St Augustine’s Centre football team! It’s a team of different languages, nationalities and skills and is superbly led by our Activities Co-Ordinator, Arsalan who is arguably the most passionate man about football throughout Calderdale! As we’ve had to put up with a summer of watching Kieran Trippier constantly cut in on his right from the left back position and Phil Foden who has struggled to bring his Manchester City form to England, I thought let’s have a chance to re-energise our football batteries with some words from Arsalan about why football is important to him and why it plays an important role in supporting our centre members as they integrate into life, here in Calderdale.

Grab a brew and enjoy this blog and I promise that you’ll be signing up for a local football team by the end!  

Football: The Universal Language

Hello everyone, my name is Arsalan and I lead our football team here at St Augustine’s it’s a privilege that I am able to write about football and call it work!  
Football is the most popular sport around the world. I do not doubt that most of us had a dream to be a footballer in our childhood. Football for me is not a dream or a sport only; it is part of me, when I get injured no matter how painful it is, the only thing that I think about at that moment is when I can play again. I am not a professional footballer though.   
In my opinion, football is an international language, if you ask me how? I will say, just look at our community and our football team at the St Augustine’s Centre. There are 40 of us who speak more than 10 different languages, but football has built this bridge to cross over the language barriers. No matter, what your mother tongue is, football brings everyone together. It has also helped our centre members to improve their English language skills by learning phrases such as ‘get it out!’ and also some more colourful English language phrases!  
For people seeking asylum, there are a lot of barriers that they have to overcome, such as system shock; not a clear system about how long they have to wait for their asylum claim decision; very low weekly income to do any other activities and the language barrier which is the biggest and the most important one.  
The inability to speak a language causes people to feel shy, and lack the confidence to make friends, to express their personality or ability and in the end all these issues make them feel isolated and depressed.  
Here is a sport like football which appears as a salvation and a bridge to cross over all those barriers. You don’t need to speak the same language as long as you can kick the ball on the pitch, after the first kick you can speak as many languages as you want.  
That is why I believe, football is not only a sport, it is another world. No matter what language, nationality, colour and religion you have, if you play football, you are part of a family.  


My Devoted Bond with Persepolis F.C.  

Apart from playing football, which is my favourite hobby, I am an insane football fan. I am going to tell you a story about my favourite football club which is back home in Iran. I started to play football when I was 5 years old. I have a brother who is 3 years older than me, he plays football as well. My brother and I support Persepolis F.C. which is one of the most popular and the biggest football clubs in Iran.   

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a local football team in our state and Iran no matter even if you have a local team, everyone supports one of the two biggest teams from the capital. They are Persepolis and Esteghlal F.C. (I find it hard to even type out their name!). Persepolis wears a red kit and Esteghlal wears a blue kit. These two teams are from Tehran and they play at the same stadium. They are the biggest rivals of each other, when they have a derby; their fans will go to camp around the stadium two, or three days before the kick-off.

You may ask why? So Iran is a big country and Tehran is in the middle and somehow towards the north of Iran, if you come from the south, southeast or west minimum takes 11 hours drive and a maximum of 20 hours drive and as a football community, most of the fans are not able to book a hotel and take a flight, that’s why they take public transport and it takes ages, believe me as my and my brother have done that journey many times! However, it’s a lot of fun and creates many memories and stories to re-tell.  




Adrian's Pre-Match Interview

I (Adrian) am just going to interject here, you need to speak to Arsalan about football to really get to understand the love and passion he has for the game. He’s even got me to adopt an Iranian football team – Sanat Naft Abadan F.C. who is based in the southern Iranian city of Abadan. Unlike Persepolis, Sanat Naft isn’t an Iranian powerhouse and this season was relegated to their second division. Arsalan sent me a link to watch their games online so I am now able to understand Iranian television adverts! 


The Transformative Role of Football During My Asylum Journey  

When I arrived in England, I couldn’t speak English and express myself and my footballing prowess. The only way I could engage with others was by playing football and mentioning some football players’ names and teams to start a conversation. It helped me to make new friends. It was the only thing and an excuse to move on and not be depressed. Football helped me to stay physically and mentally fit and positive. Football also brings miracles, as it happened to me. This is a memory which will stay with me for the rest of my life and showcases how Calderdale welcomes those seeking sanctuary. I was newly arrived in Halifax, and I didn’t know anyone. The first thing that came to my mind was football. I looked up for any football match around and I found out that FC Halifax Town were playing Maidenhead United F.C. at The Shay.  
It was in January 2020 and the weather was too cold. I went to the Shay Stadium to watch the match, but I didn’t have any money. When I got there, they asked me £20 for a ticket but I couldn’t explain that I had no money, but I would like to watch the match. I tried to explain that I sadly couldn’t afford to watch the match. They asked their boss to talk to me. It was a lady, she kindly explained that this was an official match, and they were not able to give a ticket for free.  
I was freezing and disappointed, I went to look around the stadium but if you saw me at that moment you could tell how much I was desperate. Every cloud has a silver lining, I was just looking around, and suddenly an old man called me and asked me what was wrong? I tried to explain, I had no ticket, he didn’t let me finish my words, jumped in and put his hand in his pocket and took off some tickets and told me, follow me. I couldn’t believe it, how come? It was a great moment, and I felt a warm welcome.  
I must have been a good luck charm for the Shaymen as Halifax ran out 5-2 winners. After the match, I tried to find the person who gave me the ticket, but I couldn’t find them. I still wish to find him and give him a big hug.  


Adrian's Half-Time Team Talk

It’s Adrian interrupting again (sorry Halifax fans). I have now turned Arsalan into a Lincoln City FC fan. I’ve had the pleasure of taking Arsalan to a couple of Lincoln games and he is now an Imp! He has had a great introduction to UK football with a visit to Accrington Stanley (who are they?) and we won! Anyway, back to Arsalan… 



St Augustine's FC: Triumph, Training, and Togetherness

Our St Augustine’s football team train twice a week and we also regularly play matches so if you’re part of a team and fancy a match with us, please reach out and contact me. Our football sessions are a great way to bring people together with football the common theme. It’s a great activity for newly arrived people to take up as we can easily introduce them to over 20 people who all love football. As well as making connections and meeting people, it’s a great way to keep fit and in shape and it’s competitive – we win, lose and draw as a team.

Refugee Week which has just gone is important in our football calendar. We compete with Halifax Friendly FC for the Sanctuary Shield. David Kinnald from Halifax Friendly FC was instrumental in setting what is now a yearly charity football match during Refugee Week. Yes, it’s competitive with both teams wanting to win but it’s great in showing real and meaningful community integration and allows our centre members to meet ‘locals’ who ordinarily they would never do. It starts to increase community cohesion and breaks down those barriers. Despite the St Augustine’s team bringing home the trophy in 2022, Halifax Friendly wrestled this year’s trophy back with a 3-1 win. David – be careful as we want it back in 2025! Two St Augustine’s teams also participated in a Refugee World Cup tournament held in Leeds. It was a high-quality affair with one of our teams narrowly losing 1-0 in the semi-finals.  


Become A Supporter

So, that’s my football journey from Iran to Halifax (that sounds like a good title for a book!). I hope this blog has given you a good sense of what football means to me and more importantly how important it is to people in the UK seeking sanctuary. It’s a home where people can be themselves, meet others, get fit and have an outlet in what is a very complicated, stressful and hostile asylum system. I hope that some of our players go to play a good standard and who knows may end up representing FC Halifax Town at The Shay. I would like to finish with some asks: 

  1. Come and support our team when we have some matches. 
  2. If any Iranian asks you which football team you support, please answer Persepolis (definitely not Esteghlal!) 
  3. We’re always in need of kit so if you have any sports-related clothing, please let me know.  
  4. If you have some spare time and would like to volunteer and help out with our football team, that would be gratefully received.  


St Augustine's FC photos by Matt Radcliffe Photo & Film