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Soccer super-coach Essa said he was proud and honoured to be acknowledged at Auburn City Council Sports Awards recently.

Essa, who is from Pakistan and seeking refugee protection in Australia, was a finalist for the Senior Sportsperson Award after being invited to make a submission by council staff.

Newington Gunners coach Essa and captain Shabbir.
Newington Gunners coach Essa and captain Shabbir.

The Newington Gunners team that he coached was also awarded with a Special Recognition in Sports Team of the Year at the same event. Having coached a team composed mostly of men seeking asylum or who were from refugee backgrounds to a grand final win this year, Essa’s achievements had been well known.

“I was in a state of disbelief when I was invited to the awards and did not believe it until I got there,” Essa said using a Hazaragi interpreter. “I was very happy and excited.”
Essa is supported by SSI while his application is assessed. His story is now well known to many people but Essa first came to the media’s attention after he approached SSI to help a group of young men from around the world join a soccer club.

The coach and most of the players were on bridging visas and unable to work and so could not pay for registration fees. Some seven months after he started his campaign to overcome this obstacle and Essa’s team had won the Granville and Districts Soccer Football Association AAM6 division Grand Final.

Asked what had been the happiest moment of 2014, Essa said it was neither the grand final win nor the personal accolades, but:
“I think finding the facilities at the Newington Gunners and seeing the field we could play on for the first time, that moment the most happy for me of my life,” he said. “Because that was for all of the group and it had been a lot of trouble.”

Essa said he was also very happy that he was able to help his group of players to join the Gunners club, and he could not thank the club’s members enough. This, he said, had given his squad something to focus on other than their traumatic pasts, and was something for them to do when they could not work or study.

“They have come along and played in our team and played together, and that has given them something,” he said. “Rather than them being on the streets, wasting their time and possibly drinking or taking drugs, or being unhealthy, they were in a team.”

Essa was accompanied to the Awards night by his SSI case manager Archana Ghale, and his team’s captain Shabbir Hussain.

“The MC introduced Essa and said he was an inspirational figure who gathered young people and supported them through soccer,” Archana said. “To be with Essa on that particular night was a privilege. To witness people clapping Essa’s achievements was beyond any words.

“I remember young high school children at our table asking Essa if they could take photos with him. They were congratulating Essa and wanting to know more about him. Watching those young people congratulating Essa and acknowledging his work was just incredible.”

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December 2, 2014

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