There are few languages in the world that could be described as truly universal. From the sun-soaked coasts of Oceania to the heart of Central Europe and beyond, accents, dialects and vernacular will always provide potential barriers to effective communication.
But football...football truly is a universal language.
The satisfaction of a well-timed slide tackle.
The feeling of togetherness as you line-up alongside your team-mates.
The anticipation of winning a corner just outside of the opposition’s box.
And the pure ecstasy of scoring a goal.
You don’t need a degree in foreign language to know what football means to the people that love it the most.
And sometimes, the language of football can be so powerful that it breaks down the more structurally sound language barriers that threaten our ability to integrate.
Abdulrahman Abubakar, can certainly attest to this.
Abdul is a refugee from Eritrea, in North-East Africa. Following the arrest of both his father, on suspicion of association with an opposition political party, and his brother, who was forced to join the Eritrean army, he was convinced by his mother to flee the country for his own safety.
A long and traumatic journey across the Mediterranean Sea ensued, and, eventually, Abdul found refuge in Hull, unable to speak a word of English and thus bereft of any educational opportunities.
The only respite Abdul was able to find was with a local Refugee Council, who signposted him to the Premier League Kicks International programme being delivered by Hull City’s Tigers Trust. The youth outreach programme aims to create safer, stronger and more respectful communities through the development of young people’s potential, offering access to facilities, coaching and mentoring.
Playing on a refurbished third generation artificial grass pitch at the Steve Prescott Sports centre, which has received £334,810 worth of investment from the Premier League, The FA and Government’s Football Foundation in 2015, it’s here where Abdul finally found his voice.
Abdul said, “The Premier League Kicks International programme provided me with the perfect foundations to fully integrate into the local community. When I first came to this country, I could barely speak a word of English and football instantly gave me the opportunity to communicate with my feet. Through the sport, I’ve been able to develop new friends, play the sport I love and gain vital qualifications to help me settle in this country quickly.
“Most of all, though, it’s created an environment to keep me away from all the negative things people can get involved with and I’m extremely grateful for all the continued support I am receiving.”
Just 18 months after joining the scheme, Abdul has been able to completely transform his fortunes. Abdul is now attending a local college, studying numerous GCSEs and has passed two qualifications as part of the Premier League Works programme. Beyond just learning himself, Abdul has proved to be a wholly selfless individual, volunteering to help other participants on the course struggling with language barriers. He also volunteers as part of two weekly Premier League Kicks sessions, gaining more knowledge of the sporting world as well as enhancing his people skills and developing excellent leadership qualities.
Kayleigh Jackson, Social Inclusion Lead Officer at Tigers Trust, said, “When Abdul initially came to the Kicks International sessions, he was a very quiet and timid character. His personal development has seen his confidence levels increase attending the Premier League Kicks International programme over the last year and a half.
“He has benefitted massively from the pitch and we are indebted to the Football Foundation and their Funding Partners for allowing us to provide this level of support to someone as inspirational as Abdul. In spite of his own difficulties, he has shown a fantastic willingness to support other people and has proved an excellent role model for other participants. We’re extremely proud of him.”
The programme is supporting Abdul whilst he volunteers and the Tigers Trust a looking to enrol him onto a Level 1 youth work qualification, as well as potentially his FA Level 1 further down the line.
Matt Barr, co-ordinator of the Premier League Works sessions, said, “Abdul has shown great potential from the off, going above and beyond by mentoring other participants during the courses without the need to be asked.”
“Since the initial course Abdul has continued to volunteer on Premier League Works most recently translating and giving additional assistance to participants. He is now a paid member of the Tigers Trust and I feel this is fully deserved due to the hard work he has already given to all three projects.”