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FOOTBALL WITHOUT BORDERS
The Lives and Times of a Refugee Football Club
My son and football best friend x
Glossary of Terms ii
What’s Up? ix
Making a Statement x
- Groundhopper: Autobiography of a Football Polygamist 1
- Settling Down: At Home with AFC Liverpool 14
- Family Life: Refugees Welcome at AFC Liverpool
- A New Life: The Birth Of Ullet Road Church Rebels FC
- In the Beginning (There Was Peace)
- We Have Joy (Dulce Et Decorum Est)
- Anger is An Energy
- Don’t Look Back in Anger
- The Return of Glenn Hysen
- Our Season Starts Here
- Emerson, Larry and Pete
- Killing Joke
- The Social Exclusion Derby
- Army Dreamers
- We Are Family
- Respect I: ‘We Only Do Positive’
- Happy Christmas (War is Over)
- The Boys Are Back in Town
- Talk About The Passion
- Shelter From The Storm
- Respect II: Is There Anybody Out There?
- Boys Don’t Cry (The Tracks of My Tears)
- Things Can Only Get Better
- The Mortgage Man of Human Kindness
- Peace, Finally
Cast in order of appearance
This book started as a refugee fan project at AFC Liverpool. I would like to thank the officials
and fans of AFC Liverpool for supporting and encouraging the fan project from the outset. In
particular, ‘Mr Chairman’ Chris Stirrup and the other board members (Adrian Cork, Alan
Harrison, Greg Armstrong and Mike Edwards) stuck their necks out for it when it was not
I would also like to thank the following people that generously crowdfunded the refugee
fan project at AFC Liverpool. They are, in order of appearance on the crowdfunding page:
Emma James, Jack Bell, Sara Parker, Clarry Mowforth, Tony, Will Jackson, Simone Krueger
Bridge, Alan Kelly, Josh Spinks and Leanne Schofield, Kay Standing, Fatima Khan, Andy
Watson, Joshua Guy-Wilkinson, Dave Williams, Mum and Dad, Mark Rushton-Woods, Chris
Davern, Annie Heritage, Anthony Roome, Peter Millward, Ven Devereux and 6 people that
When my refugee friends approached me about the possibility of starting a football
club, I immediately thought of the Reverend Philip Waldron. I barely knew him at the time but
he is now my brilliant and indispensable friend, as well as a Minister. As my wife, Pauline,
says, ‘I can see why you both get on so well. The word ‘No’ is not in either of your
vocabularies.’ Phil has put so much into the club, I would not know where to start but I hope
reading the book gives you a good idea. In a nutshell, there would be no football club without
Phil. Phil and I were assisted by Paul Miller at the outset.
When Phil and I came together to establish Ullet Road Church Rebels F.C. we were
helped by some brilliant people. Although the book is less than complimentary about the
football ‘authorities’ there are some truly incredible human beings that work for them. Stuart
Carrington of Liverpool County FA (LCFA) is one of those people. I discuss some of his
pioneering work with refugees in Liverpool in this book. He is an inspiration to us all. Aside
from that, Stuart, and LCFA’s ultra-friendly and helpful Steve Swinterton, were generous with
their time and support in helping Phil and I to set up our club.
As well as emerging from a refugee project at AFC Liverpool, Ullet Road Church
Rebels F.C. was the product of what I learned from volunteering at Asylum Link Merseyside.
No words adequately describe the centre manager Ewan Roberts, who is truly inspirational.
Like Phil, Ewan never sees a negative. Only positive. His positivity, encouragement and
unswerving support is a key reason for the existence of the Rebels. Asylum Link’s Wendy
Humphrey-Taylor is similar. She has given endless amounts of time and energy to her work
with Stuart Carrington to set up football projects for asylum seekers and refugees in
Liverpool. Her help has been invaluable to us.
Once underway, Barrie and Pauline turned up on the touchline and have been
generous in their support of the club – both financially and on the touchline. Warmest thanks
to you both. Thanks also to AFC Liverpool reserve managers Gary Hearns (2018-19) and
Kieran Hughes (2019-20) who have both been supportive of the Rebels by giving us friendly
matches and taking a general interest in us. AFC Liverpool’s players, Dave Potter and
Jordon Foster, have also been a brilliant support to us, by supplying kit and equipment.
Thanks so much lads. And thanks to the one and only AFC Liverpool steward, Mikey, for
throwing himself into supporting us with such gusto.
I would like to thank the players of Liverpool Homeless FC and AFC Wavertree
(especially Omar) for their good sportsmanship and friendship. Also thanks to my favourite
referees, Les Roberts and Ritchie, for taking respect seriously. We also owe a debt to Guy
and Vicki, from Ullet Road Church, for providing emergency transport at short notice. Thank
you. Talking of debt: Our debt to Nick Woodrow is immense. Thank you for the huge financial
support you have given to the club, Nick. It is truly amazing and beyond what we imagined
anyone would do for us.
Then there are the people that make it all happen for us on a weekly basis. Sincere
thanks to Pete for his outstanding stewardship of the team. He is an outstanding human
being as well as a brilliant football coach. Huge thanks also go to Larry for his contributions
to the coaching.
To the book itself. Whenever a book author asks a friend for their help, they are
generally asking a lot of them. Heartfelt thanks to my friend Ian Skillicorn for generously
giving me his time and advice on the closing stages of the book. His advice was sharp,
incisive and invaluable. The same goes to Adrian Cork who is a great human being that I am
proud to call a friend. Adrian read and advised on the manuscript and has been an invaluable
source of advice from the beginning of the AFC refugee fan project right through to the
completion of this book. Thank you Adrian. The same also applies to my lifelong friend,
Graham Lyons, who was willing to work on the graphic and typesetting side of this book for
nothing, if I had let him. That is true friendship.
Finally, the family. Thanks to my stepson Aaron for talking through the idea of a
refugee football club with me and encouraging me with it when the idea first presented itself.
Without his interest and encouragement, the club may never have happened. The same
goes for Annie and Charlie who are developing into two brilliant human beings with an
amazing understanding of people and their needs. Without their support, the club does not
happen. Finally, the one and only Pauline read the book manuscript and provided me with
some brilliant advice and suggestions. More importantly, she puts up with me (and Killing
Joke) day in, day out, and yet, somehow, still loves me and supports me in all of my mad
schemes and projects. I do not know what I would do without her.
Chris Allen, November 2020
Glossary of Terms
A person seeking asylum is a person who has left their country of origin and formally
applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.
Wherever possible in this book, I refer to ‘people seeking asylum’ or ‘people in the asylum
system’ because the term ‘asylum seeker’ has become dehumanising.
The definition of a refugee according to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the
Status of Refugees is:
‘A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion,
nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or,
owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself [sic] of the protection of that country; or who, not
having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result
of such events is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it.’
In the UK, a person becomes a refugee when government agrees that an individual who has
applied for asylum meets the definition in the Refugee Convention. The government will then
‘recognise’ that person as a refugee and issue them with refugee status documentation.
Usually, refugees in the UK are given 5 years ‘leave to remain’. They must then apply for
further leave, although their status as a refugee is not limited to 5 years.
10th March 2019
Chris: Here is a screenshot of an article I have written about our football team Mohamed. It is
in a football magazine called When Saturday Comes. I have quoted you talking about our
football club being your way of gaining peace and a sense of family. It’s a brilliant quote from
you. Fancy a coffee soon?
Mohamed: Wow, wow it shows the world our humanity. That means so much to me.
2nd April 2019
Chris: We have one game left. I wrote to the league yesterday saying I had no confidence in
them. They are a joke. I told Phil I want us to resign before our last game so we have a
chance to make it into an issue. He is mulling it over. I won’t be attending anyway. FA are a
joke too. With only one game left, they circulate a Respect initiative.
Adrian: Resign before your last game? That’s a statement Chris. What in particular has the N
Competente league done; or is it just routine incompetence? FA are a joke. Too much money
involved at the top of the game for them to take decisive action on racism etc. Respect
initiative at the end of the season is completely pointless.
3rd April 2019:
Chris: We resigned from the N Competente league this morning. No reasons given. We will
think about doing something else to make our reasons available. So there you go. Job done.
We are now league-less!
Adrian: Wow. Ok. Do the players know and understand why? Hopefully, you will find a
league though as what the Rebels are matters.
Making a Statement
Having recently walked out of my job, I find myself standing outside the building of Asylum
Link Merseyside wondering what is on the inside. I read on their website about an allotment
project and am here to volunteer on it. The allotment project provides food for volunteers to
cook in the Asylum Link kitchen. They need it. People seeking asylum in the UK get virtually
no money to live on so they go hungry. It also provides mental health benefits to asylum
seekers. They can go to work on the allotment and forget all about their problems for a few
As I push the door open, the throng of people overwhelms me. Some are sitting on
their own staring at the floor. Others are milling around aimlessly. A few are talking with each
‘Can I help?’
The volunteer on the desk, a refugee, smiles as he awaits my answer. After I explain
who I am and why I am here, he ushers me upstairs to meet the centre manager, Ewan.
Ewan and the handful of people that work here have dedicated their lives to helping the
crowd of people that seemingly fill every available inch of space in the building. Somehow,
he finds time for everyone. Including me.
I then travel to the allotment where, like the people that fill the Asylum Link building, I
am seeking to restart my own life – in the midst of the chaos engulfing these other people’s
lives. With the increasingly pointless demands of my job as a university professor now in the
past, real life is calling and I am about to embrace it.
We dig weeds. We plant seeds. We eat what we grow back at Asylum Link where Ruth
transforms it into amazing curries. We talk as we nurture the land and devour its produce. I
reel in horror at some of the things my new friends have been through in their lives. We
reach out to each other. Then, the inevitable happens. Football.
We start to watch it together. We go to non-league matches at AFC Liverpool together.
Then, in 2018, we form our own football team. We are going to be the first 11-a-side football
team composed entirely of people seeking asylum and refugees to play competitive football
In my dreams, Jürgen Klopp is coming to the launch. (I sent the letter anyway). We are
going to win the league. Ruth is going to win over the opposition with the taste of her curries
after each game. We are going to spread the love to everyone. And they will love us back in
turn. It will be like everything I have always dreamed football could be like. After 40 odd years
of searching for the soul of football among the various clubs of England and Wales, I think I
am finally coming face to face with the true spirit of football. I am exhilarated.
Nine months later, the dream is over and my naiveties have been shattered into a
million pieces. Battered and bruised by the reality of grassroots football in my home city, I
find myself reading more and more books about masculinity and racism. Things are so bad
that we have even resigned from our league in protest at the toxic culture that the authorities
are overseeing but not tackling. It was never meant to be like this.
I think about giving the authorities both barrels in a resignation letter. However, they
are part of the toxic culture, and the problem, rather than the solution. We have given them
enough chances during the season to show they care. However, they have not given a toss
about us and they have not been scared to show it. I want to make a statement but what is
the point if the only people that can do anything about it are not listening and do not care.
What’s more, I am afraid of making a statement in case there is any comeback in the form of
yet more threats and intimidation.
Therefore, I return to the private world in my head and begin to scribble down what I
want to say to the world, if only it would listen. If nothing else, it will be cathartic. Anyway, I
reassure myself that I can always put it in the book I am planning to write. I began to type:
‘Ullet Road Church Rebels F.C. today resigned their membership of the N Competente
football league with one game to play due to the lack of respect shown to our club and our
players on and off the pitch which, in the light of the FA Respect campaign, is ironic. We
have chosen not to take our grievances to the football authorities because we have no
confidence in them. They are part of the problem. As a club, we will have discussions about
what we do next to tackle the problems we are encountering in football and society more
I stop typing and read back what I have written. It says what I want to say but it is
crushing. After all the years spent searching the length and breadth of Britain for the soul of
football I thought I had finally found it but the words I have just written on the screen are
telling me that it doesn’t really exist.
I cannot leave it like this. I am 49 years old. I have spent forty-two of those years in
football grounds large and small, British and European. This cannot be the end of my football
story. My fingers hover over the keyboard. They are determined that I am going to carry on,
so they produce a quotation from the club Chairman, Phil.
‘I am saddened that we have had to resign our membership of the league. However,
we have had to take a stand. We were all born under the same sky yet it is as if this
fundamental truth does not exist in large parts of society. Our aim now must be to ensure
that we carry on working, as a church football club that fields a team of refugees and people
seeking asylum, to promote this fundamental truth as deep and wide as we can.’
The words that I have just put in Phil’s mouth stir me up. They make my typing fingers
more restless. Text continues to appear on my screen. This time, it is me speaking as the
‘It means so much to our young players that our club exists. We are the family that
many of them otherwise would not have. Resignation from the league is a temporary
setback. We are already planning our return to league competition elsewhere because our
players need football.’
As I sit back in my chair and stare at what I have written on the computer screen, I
think about the cast of characters that have been involved in our story so far and the many
that are dependent on it continuing. Liverpool have just come back from three goals down
against Barcelona to reach the Champions League final. After the game, Mo Salah strode
onto the pitch to reveal a ‘Never Give Up’ t-shirt under his coat. This is no time for quitting.
Our players are depending on us. My search for football nirvana, which started back in 1977,
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