After my previous article about stepping outside my comfort zone to discover the completely new world of Jayne Lawless’ Sketch Club, I decided to tackle something I’m far more familiar with: City of Liverpool FC in the Community. I’ll call it ‘COLFCC’ for short.

“What is it? A local footy club??” Oh no, it’s more than than that. So, so much more than that.

Let me take you down the rabbit hole, it’s magic.

COLFCC is a project that’s been running for almost three years where, essentially, we play a football match in Everton Park Lifestyles every Sunday at 12 noon. We aim for 50% local lads and 50% refugees. We’ve even had special guests Jeremy Corbyn MP & Dan Carden MP (esquires?) down for a kickabout. Everyone is welcome.

We’ve received very small grants from the Red Cross to cover pitch hire and, more recently, one from Liverpool City Council – as well as a few other smaller organisations. But, by and large, we’ve made do with what we’ve had out of our own pockets. Everton Lifestyles have also been incredible in giving us a very cheap deal for being regular customers.

Forgive me for the number of photos in this article but I think the pictures tell a thousand words in this case.

Where would you find a project that has refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Iraq & more integrating & making friends with the locals (and becoming locals) via the universal language of scoring goals?

It sounds like a nice feel-good community project for a parish newspaper in an upper-middle-class sleepy village in the South East. Or even the script to a Hollywood film.

It’s not. It’s right here in the heart of Liverpool. It’s happening (near enough) every week.

It all started when Sean Lindblad, a fan of local fan-owned club City of Liverpool FC, became friends with a refugee who had just arrived in the country and desperately wanted to play football. Sean sent a few tweets out trying to get a game together for him and it grew from there when a few of us answered the call. I remember that very first session and it’s crazy to think how far it’s come since then.

At some point, we roped in City of Liverpool FC and they adopted us as their community team. I honestly don’t know all the intimate details – that’s future article material – but they’re very helpful and their lads are at loads of our sessions.

We now have an 11-a-side team, a kids team and a trophy-winning “walking” football team – which has since been rebranded as “social football” because organiser Mike Meadows can’t stop sprinting. Sorry, Mike. I know it’s not just you. I’m guilty, too.

A women’s team surely has to be the next achievement on the horizon?

The 11-a-side team also plays semi-regular friendlies against our “rivals” Mersey Marauders, the LGBTQ+ Team in Merseyside.

Realtalk: That might raise a few eyebrows given the current political climate and that half our lads are Muslim refugees. We’ve only got positive feedback from both sides. No issues at all in nearly 3 years of friendlies.

COLFCC appearing as allies in the Gay Football Supporters Network. Somewhere, poetically, on the far-left of the photo.

So what’s the match like?

We’ve had anywhere from roughly 10-40 lads depending on various factors. Anyone is welcome to come down. The matches are fun, good-natured and very chaotic but the real secret of the project is the characters you meet along the way.

A cold and bitter day for football (as you can tell from all the hats & gloves).

Despite us having “volunteered” (and I use the term very loosely for what amounts to chatting and kicking a ball) with over 200 refugees in three years (many referred via Asylum Link), some people just end up standing out more than others.

You don’t just become team-mates. You become friends.

I’ve chosen to focus on two of my favourite refugees: ‘Big Mo’ and ‘Bash’. They sound more intimidating than they are.

Trust me, they’re softies.

Big Mo

We’ll start with Big Mo. “Why is he called Big Mo?” I hear you asking.

I’ll let his Instagram picture speak for itself.

Hopefully you now understand why we call him Big Mo.

Want to know a secret? He’s big, intimidating and probably the nicest lad you’ll ever meet. He’s well-spoken, polite, kind and tackles like a hungry octopus. If whirlwinds had legs they’d be called ‘Big Mo’s’. Limbs. Everywhere. It’s become an effective, if unorthodox, strategy he employs at the back. Nobody’s safe from his telescopic tackles. Friend or foe.

Mo is originally from Sudan, has the ‘right to work’ and does some part-time work as a steward in theatres, as well as event staffing for agencies. I’ve told him he needs to get on a Personal Trainer course. If anyone knows how to help him do that, hit me up. We’re both clueless.

‘Bash’

Albashir / Bashir, or ‘Bash’ for short, is one of my favourites from COLFCC.

Bash’s playstyle I would describe as ‘athletic’. This lad runs. And runs. And runs. He never seems to run out of energy and always has a smile on his face. What I’m saying is:

Bash makes Ngolo Kante look like a couch potato. Bold statement, I know. But you haven’t had him tearing past you at 400 mph while you’re trying to run back. I get it every week.

Like Mo, Bash is Sudanese and in pretty good shape but has the benefit of being a bit older and wiser. He’s studied some form of Sports Science at University level in the past but is still waiting for his family to physically send over his certificate.

Bash is such a warm person. He’s been teaching me some Arabic so we can communicate with the newer arrivals a bit better. “Hulwa”, I’m told, means beautiful or sweet and can be applied to a good pass, a loving friend or a girl that catches your eye. So if you’re near Greatie and hear echoes of someone screaming “HULWAAA!! YESS!” on a Sunday… that’s me, sorry. It was probably a good bit of defending.

I’ve said to Bash he should also look into doing personal training – he would be amazing at it and it’s something he’s very interested in doing. I often see him at The Gym on Great Homer Street with his mate Ibrahim, they’re very dedicated to staying in shape.

If you’d be interested in getting involved it’s as simple as either turning up, tweeting at Sean on @COLFCCommunity or give me a shout on hello@greatiepress.com and I’ll get you down.

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You made it to the end of one of my first articles. Congratulations!

You may be wondering: “What is Greatie Press?” – it’s a little journalism project set up to discover what’s going on in the Great Homer Street area and, hopefully, beyond.

I’m just starting out so any and all feedback is welcome via any social media channels, in person or via my email: hello@greatiepress.com.

There’s no money in this for me right now (I might get around to putting ads on here someday), I’m just doing it because I love the area and want to know what’s going on in the world around me.

While I’m out there discovering our area, I might as well share what I’ve found!

Please do share any of these articles if you think they’re worth reading and, if you think I should be doing an article on a particular person or place, LET ME KNOW and I’ll be there.

Thanks

Dan