10 Sep 2015

Will English football fans welcome refugees with banners?

The Premier League returns this weekend after a short break. Will supporters in the top flight of English football mirror their German counterparts and embrace refugees with supportive banners?

German football club

While Wayne Rooney’s route to becoming England’s all-time goal scorer dominated the sporting headlines during the two-week international break, the world of football was not immune to the goings-on off the pitch.

The Syrian crisis and the continuing influx of refugees and migrants making their way through Europe has triggered the conscience of many citizens on the continent, football fans and clubs included. Germany, leading the way when it comes to embracing refugees (Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the country could take 500,000 each year for “several years”), is also publicising its acceptance of newcomers in banners at football grounds.

On the last weekend of August, fans at various grounds across Germany coordinated an effort to display large banners stating “Refugees Welcome”. Borussia Dortmund invited 220 refugees to their Europa League match against Odds BK on 27 August, while Bayern Munich, the current Bundesliga champions, have pledged €1m towards the Syrian cause and aim to set up a training camp for young refugees. The club’s youth academy will be providing regular training, meals and German language classes for children.

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Arsenal to donate ticket money to victims of Syrian crisisâ??We decided to give £1 per ticket sold because itâ??s an immediate need for people without anything who have had to flee that country.â?Arsene Wenger reveals that Arsenal will donate £1 of every ticket sold at their Saturday Premier League match against Stoke City Football Club to victims of the Syrian crisis.

Posted by Channel 4 News on Thursday, 10 September 2015

With the Premier League returning this Saturday, all eyes are on whether English clubs and supporters will respond to the refugee crisis in a similar fashion.

The League sold television rights for matches at £5.136 billion for next season, the financial clout and global impact of English football is larger than ever.

Football clubs have begun to weigh in, with some having been committed to helping Syrian refugees for a number of years. Arsenal have donated money towards Syrian children since 2012 and have a relationship with the Save the Children charity. Manager Arsene Wenger revealed that £1 of every ticket sold for the home match against Stoke City this weekend will be donated towards refugees fleeing Syria. The Emirates holds 60,000 spectators.

The football family has a long tradition in solidarity and social responsibility – Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa

Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all agreed to donate €1 from every ticket sold in the first Champions League games which take place next week. This was after FC Porto wrote to UEFA President Michael Platini calling on all 32 clubs in the group stage of the Champions League to donate 1 euro per ticket sold for the first two match days. Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa wrote that “the football family has a long tradition in solidarity and social responsibility, so it’s impossible to close our eyes to the drama of the migrants and refugees that are trying to enter in the European soil.”

The Independent reported that Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper and Chris Bryant MP were writing to every club in the top tier of English football to urge them to allow supporters to display #refugees welcome banners. The Premier League has responded by reminding fans that if they wish to unfurl any banners during matches they should check each club’s guidelines and republished a list of such rules on their website.

Most grounds state that banners or flags should be “non-offensive”, with some requiring fans to notify the club in advance of the match that they will be bringing a banner, especially if the flag is to be particularly large.

A Faceboook group, #RefugeesWelcome – English Football League Day of Solidarity, has called on fans across all tiers of English football to display supportive refugee banners and many have begun to respond.

Dena Nakeeb told Channel 4 News that so far supporters from Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Charlton Athletic, Swindon Town, AFC Wimbledon and Plymouth Argyle had informed them of their plans to unfurl #refugeeswelcome banners at various grounds.

Even non-league teams are getting involved. Supporters of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, which plays in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League, have donated food, clothes and tents at the club’s ground to support refugees and migrants. Members of the club’s supporters’ trust plan to take the supplies to Calais next month.

Trust member Nisha Damji said: “I thought I’d probably get a car-load of stuff, I think there’s been a minivan, there’s been several car-loads of donations – it’s incredible.”