They came from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sierra Leone, Turkey, Nepal and Tajikistan. The 20-odd men and teenagers who met one another on a dimly lit park in western Sydney had no money between them to join an established club, so called themselves Auburn United FC.
In the lead up to the big day, Gunners player Shabbir Hussain, who came to Australia from Quetta, Pakistan, said that just being able to play soccer this year had changed his life. Shabbir, 32, who was a police officer in Quetta, fled his remaining family and home after a series of targeted raids and bomb attacks by extremists killed many of his fellow officers and friends.
“Playing soccer has changed my life because before I was feeling alone,” he said. “There was no one to talk and share my life’s tragedy with. Now I have good friends in our team who are my family. I can sit and share everything I had in my life.”
Many of the team members are supported to live in the community by not-for-profit organisation Settlement Services International’s (SSI) humanitarian settlement programs. SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said they showed such a passion for soccer that it became important to help them join a club and competition.
“These men came from extreme circumstances in crises around the world that most of us could not imagine,” Ms Roumeliotis said. “The team’s achievements this year have really defied the odds. Many of them are on bridging visas that do not allow them to work – they live on an average of $32 a day – so at the start of the year they had no club and no money to join one.
“After a campaign to find sponsorship for them, a number of very generous supporters, including the Newington Gunners Soccer Club came forward to help. The club has been very supportive and sensitive to the needs of this group and we can’t thank them or the other sponsors enough.
“The benefits that come from participating in community activities like soccer shouldn’t be overlooked. It has given these men a boost to their confidence, kept them healthy and connected them with a wonderful community soccer club. Now a championship title is in their sights.”
The Gunners’ club secretary Ben Nilsson said everyone at the club was very proud of the team. "Finishing first in their competition is an outstanding achievement, but from a club's point of view, they have been a dream team to manage,” he said. “They have volunteered in all club duties including the canteen. They have brought an awareness of the refugee situation to the executive of the club, which has in turn filtered down through the club. We do not believe we had any racial issues in the past, but our interaction with these men has hardened our resolve to accept people for who they are, no matter what they look like or where they are from."
The Newington Gunners AAM6 team, as it is officially called, finished the season on top of the table in the Granville and Districts Soccer Football Association Open Men’s second division competition.
Grand Final: 2:45pm, Saturday, September 13
Location: Ron Mondy Park, (formerly Guildford Oval) Guildford.
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