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Monday, 29 April 2019 10:06

The Power of Football Featured

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SUNDAY 28th APRIL. Leckwith 3G, weather sunny and calmer.
BANGLADESH 3 YEMEN 2 (Cardiff Community Cohesion Cup final)

We all have matches that we plan to attend for weeks or more; But sometimes those we chance upon are just as rewarding, and my interest was piqued by a tweet a few days ago encouraging people to attend the final of the Cardiff Community Cohesion Cup.

I had been vaguely aware of this tournament before - it's been running several years, organised by South Wales Police with the aim of involving Cardiff's ethnic minorities. The winners will get to play against a police team, in a showpiece game at Cardiff City Stadium, and this year the two finalists are teams from the Bangladeshi and Yemeni communities. So far, so intriguing, but a bonus is that it's being played on the outdoor 3G at City's Leckwith complex, a pitch I've never previously seen a game on.

Thankfully, we've seen the back of storm Hannah, which made my Friday and Saturday football experiences wetter and windier than I'd have liked. Sunday is altogether calmer and more conducive to spectating, and that's reflected in a crowd of onlookers - mostly connections and supporters of the two squads, plus a fair number of police, in and out of uniform. They're here not to keep the peace, but to engage with the public. The competition is an initiative that aims to tackle "barriers of distrust, segregation and racism between all cultures and local authorities through the power of football" and it is quite striking to see how meeting in this context creates friendly interaction between police and public. I've no doubt, on this evidence, that it's changing attitudes and breaking down fears and prejudices.

 

That's all very encouraging to see, but there's a football match to play, and it turns out to be a cracker. The Bangladeshi side looks the stronger, and take a first half lead, only to be pegged back by a spectacular cross/shot after the interval. Bangladesh restore their lead, but a defensive mix-up brings another Yemeni equaliser and sets up a remarkable final fifteen minutes. Yemen almost take the lead in an incident that leaves the Bangladesh keeper injured and he's barely able to carry on. Chances come at both ends, until in the 90th minute a long throw leads to Bangladesh's third, only for more stoppage time drama as Yemen hit the underside of the bar with the last kick of the match.

 

High drama, but the prevailing atmosphere is never anything but sporting. The winners and losers pose in a 'mixed' team photo, then the Bangladeshis receive their trophy from Chief Superintendent Steve Jones, who praises the finalists for representing their heritages and communities. It turns out that both teams will, in fact, be involved in the two games to be staged over the road, on May 19th.

 

On the walk back into town, I have a chance to reflect on what I've seen. Football, to me, is a beautiful, paradoxical thing: for all its tribalism and sometimes bitter rivalry, it can also have the power to bring together people from all walks of life, to help them bond over a shared interest in the global game. I've previously praised the work Bellevue FC are doing up in Wrexham, as a club in regular Saturday football that gives players from minorities a chance to avoid isolation by belonging. The Cardiff initiative is different, outside mainstream football, but South Wales Police have clearly hit upon something valuable here: the added element being that the players are actually able to proudly represent their homelands on the football field, a feeling that's precious whatever your nationality.

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