Are England’s Premier League clubs doing enough to help refugees? The country’s lower league teams have done their bit, but why is the country of football money so quiet on the matter? Daniel Pinder investigates.
In one of the largest flows of refugees since the Second World War, Europe is under increasing pressure to aid refugees. Throughout, the United Kingdom has been noticeably absent in its attempts to help and despite not being in power, Labour members of parliament Chris Bryant and Yvette Cooper have urged English football clubs to show solidarity, alongside a Twitter campaign, to raise awareness in English football.
Bayern Munich was amongst the first European clubs to set an example. The German champions donated 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to charitable projects, including setting up a training camp, offering meals and German language classes to children. Spain’s Real Madrid and France’s Paris St. Germain also made sizeable donations to help the “youngest” refugees. FC Porto donated one euro from each ticket of their opening Champions League game before urging other sides in the competition – and Europa League – to do so. Manchester United soon jumped on board the idea as part of a campaign called 90 Minutes of Hope, and while this is encouraging it is far too little from a football club that boasts a global fan base over 659 million followers and a Twitter following over six million.
Arsenal pledged one English pound (1.3 euros) from every match ticket sold for their Premier League game against Stoke City, but what seems like a good gesture, really turned out to be a mere fee of around 80,000 euros. Aston Villa’s fan group, Brigada 1874, were the first Premier League club to announce that they’d hold up welcoming banners, but in general the lack of activity from top clubs has been so concerning that football fans across England have taken to social media to express their concern. An “English Football League Day of Solidarity” was held on the September 12, just two days before the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Theresa May met with European Union leaders.
Less money, but more to give
Perhaps top flight clubs should take a look at lower league football. League One side Swindon Town was the first club in England to raise awareness and Bath City soon followed suit. Fans of the Vanarama Conference South side collected 175 euros and filled nine trolleys of everyday needs after holding a collection at their game against Hemel Hempstead Town. “What Bath does have is that sense of community so it seemed like an obvious thing to do,” says Steve Bradley, one of the organizers. “Lower league football has shown the way and it makes sense because it’s easier.”
Supporters of non-league FC United of Manchester and Dulwich Hamlet also rallied together donating supplies for refugees in Calais. “Fans instantly feel a part of that club, get involved and help them out and you instantly feel you’re part of that family,” adds Bradley, who adds due thanks to regulations like the 50+1 ruling, Germany has clubs “that are much more in tune with what is important to their fans and local communities.”
After becoming increasingly annoyed by the lack of response from the government and Premier League clubs, Newcastle United fan Callum Taylor started his own fundraiser, raising 836 euros. Unveiling a “Refugees Welcome” banner against West Ham United, Taylor was aware the London club may not welcome political banners in their stadium. “I later found out that another Newcastle fan had their “refugees welcome” banner taken off them at the gate by security,” recalled Taylor. Prior to kick off, a small section of Newcastle fans unveiled the banner, but it was soon taken down. “I guess this goes back to the thing about West Ham not wanting political banners at their ground,” said Taylor. “I got the feeling the stewards actually supported our message, but were just doing their job.”
Chris Webster, founder of Yorkshire St. Pauli perhaps makes the most valid point: “Everything is political so it’s about time English clubs stop shying away from the refugee crisis and adopt that approach that many German teams such as St. Pauli have.”
If Premier League clubs were owned by fans – rather than a wealthy individual – then maybe supporters would be able to feel a cohesion in their community once again. “When fans have a stake in football clubs, they can highlight issues within communities,” added Webster. “English fans want to see this change. It will be solely through fan organization to try and force English football clubs to adopt an explicit “Refugees Welcome” stance.”
Premier League football has proved itself to be the most entertaining in the world with spectators in 212 countries, but when it comes to community pride, top flight English football lags behind its counterparts. As Steve Bradley said: “Nothing disappoints me about Premier League clubs because Premier League football has just completely lost its soul.” While others struggle to find a new home, it is time for England’s leading football clubs to reach into their deep pockets and use their money for something good.