For the teams from London and Plymouth it was the day of the big match – no not a crucial decider at the Euros 2016 but Plymouth Hope vs Freedom from Torture Football therapy group, at the Market Road pitches in Islington.
The matches kicked off Refugee Week, the international week which focuses on the needs of refugees. There was no national honour at stake as both teams were made up of people from many countries, refugees and migrants to the UK.
There were three 11-a-side matches, each of 30 minutes. The first two matches saw Freedom from Torture teams, resplendent in fluorescent lime and black kit, challenge Plymouth Hope teams, in green and gold, and orange and black. The final match saw the two Plymouth Hope teams battle it out in a non-local derby.
While Freedom from Torture had home advantage, they had less experience on the large pitch than Plymouth Hope, with the result that in their two matches they were beaten 4-1 and 3-1. But all the games were hard-fought but friendly – with no yellow cards or torn shirts. And despite the torrential rain of the morning, the matches were played in sunshine.
Afterwards, some of the Freedom from Torture team expressed disappointment at their defeat. But therapist Selcuk Berilgen was upbeat. “The guys played with spirit and I am proud of them.” he said after the match. “The important thing is we enjoyed the games and meeting with Plymouth Hope and we will definitely try to keep in touch.”
About Freedom from Torture football therapy group
Football is a language that everyone shares and the Freedom from Torture team is made up of torture survivors from many countries. The players are trained by Arsenal in the Community coaches as part of their social inclusion programme, helping young torture survivors heal the scars of their past.
The weekly sessions give the participants the tools to set aside their stress and social isolation, while taking on the positive mental and physical challenges of the game. Training opens up the possibilities of hope and builds a sense of community with other team members, alongside traditional therapy and English language lessons.
Playing the Plymouth Hope Football Club during Refugee Week is another innovative way for the team to extend and exhibit their skills. Plymouth Hope is made up of refugees and asylum seekers supported by the British Red Cross Welcome Project. Their trip to London also included a tour of Emirates Stadium.