Women not allowed to play football have a ‘dream come true’ at Liverpool

The magic happens every Monday on a pitch tucked away from the road at the Tiber Football Center on Lodge Lane.

Once a professional footballer with the Tottenham Hotspur women‘s team, Comfort Etim, 38, set up Comfort’s Angels in 2018 while working with Refugee Women Connect. Inspired by her own experience of becoming homeless and seeking asylum in the UK after being taken from Nigeria and held against her will in London in 2003, Comfort wanted a space where women could find community in the midst of the loneliness of the asylum process.

She created a haven for women like Amaneh, 68, who played basketball with her friends but couldn’t play games, join a team or play soccer in Iran, where she is from. She feels proud now that she plays with Comfort’s Angels, which has allowed her to make “some good new friends”. Amaneh said, “I like playing football and I like it because it makes me happy. I forget my problems. The comfort is very nice and very kind.”

READ MORE:Liverpool MP Dan Carden rails against ‘anti-migrant and racist rhetoric’ as he calls for support for refugees

What is happening on this football pitch in Toxteth is attracting media attention. The Anfield Wrap were at the Comfort’s Angels training session this week, one of many they visited while producing a documentary about the team. On Monday March 28, social justice platform shado released a short film about the Comfort’s Angels, made in collaboration with Amnesty, which funds the team. Guardian Hana told shado, “It was a dream in my closet when I was a kid.”

But like Amaneh, she couldn’t play football in Albania, which she left eight years ago, saying the attitude was that ‘football is for men and not for women’. She was frustrated at being branded a troublemaker and “wouldn’t have a future there” if she played. But the dream never died, and meeting Comfort when she started the team in 2018 allowed Hana to finally realize that dream.

Hana said, “In the beginning, [my family] did not accept it. Then when I sent them photos and videos of our practices and tournaments, they started to accept it a bit. I said, ‘Look, I’m raising my kids in a place where nobody cares where you’re from, what you wear, whatever you do, nobody cares. I want to raise my children in freedom.”

Hana said, “Come once and see how it goes. You will never forget that day you came here”

The mother-of-two was granted refugee status in December and begins training to become a coach in May, but many women here are stuck in limbo awaiting decisions on their asylum claims. Some are only in Liverpool temporarily before being moved to accommodation elsewhere in the country.

Comfort said: “It definitely breaks our hearts because stability is something we really want for all of our women. But at the end of the day, we stay in touch with them. I make sure that no matter the town they were dispersed to, we find a support system there, it may not be football, but just a group of people who support people seeking refuge in the UK.

“But it’s heartbreaking. We definitely miss our women who are no longer in Liverpool. It’s a community, it’s a family. The women make friends, they keep in touch with each other. That goes beyond just coming here on a Monday.”

Comfort Etim played football professionally in Nigeria and with Tottenham Hotspur before moving to Liverpool where she founded Comfort's Angels, a football team for refugee and asylum-seeking women.
Comfort Etim played football professionally in Nigeria and with Tottenham Hotspur before moving to Liverpool where she founded Comfort’s Angels, a football team for refugee and asylum-seeking women.

Among those still living in temporary accommodation with Home Office support of around £40 a week is Hana’s former neighbor Fatima, whom she invited to a training session a year ago. year and a half.

Fatima doesn’t even watch football and never imagined playing it. But the mum-of-two, who struggles to sleep, feels welcome and not judged when she comes to socialize and stay fit with people who are going through similar experiences. She enjoys the excitement of a game and goes home relaxed.

The 36-year-old said: “Comfort’s Angels is a beautiful platform. It’s really, really helped people like us. We come here and then you forget everything else. turn on, your mood is light and you just want to interact.You forget about everything you’re thinking about that doesn’t make you happy at the moment.

During the session, Comfort shouted encouragement to the women on the pitch and waved to the children over the fence so she could watch them while a player watched a row of babies in prams. When it was over, Comfort lingered in the parking lot, mingling with a smile on his face as the women drove off in pairs.

She told ECHO: “That was the motive, to give the opportunity to women who haven’t been able to really express themselves. Women are always disproportionate in terms of football. Things like going out and playing football, some religions don’t like it, some traditions don’t like it.

“I’m from Nigeria, we have a women’s team, but there are certain communities, certain traditions, that won’t allow a girl to participate in games like this. So for women now to have that opportunity to express it, why not? That’s why we have the space, that’s why I’m pushing for other cities, other county FAs to set up open spaces like this, where the women who have not been able to speak out can come out of their shell.

Despite the attention, as well as funding from Amnesty International and support from Liverpool County FA, ​​they are still short of equipment. Shin guards are required to play in the She Inspires league, in which they compete, but “none of the women have shin guards,” Comfort said. Many don’t own their own football boots, so Comfort is always looking for new ways to support the team.

Speaking about their five-minute documentary released this week, shado co-founder Isabella Perace said: “It’s great that refugee men’s players and teams have gotten some coverage over the past few years, but it’s Rarely is this space offered to refugee women who face their own unique set of barriers.The documentary celebrates the stories of these incredible women and allows their voices to be heard on a subject where their experiences are so often put in the spotlight. side.

You can watch shado’s documentary here.

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