Northern Ireland

Uniting the world through football

Members of World United football team
Team manager Adrian Murphy, alongside players Reginald Vellem from Zimbabwe chair and Kingsley Burrows from South Africa.

For local football teams in Northern Ireland, not many can boast signings from more than 20 different countries.

But World United, who have just celebrated their 10th anniversary, have made foreign signings their specialty.

The team was initially set up in Belfast as a way for immigrants and asylum seekers to meet other people with shared experiences.

Over the years more than 100 players have come through the team.

Reginald Vellem, originally from Zimbabwe, has been living in Northern Ireland for 11 years and acts as the team's chairperson.

"Initially when World United was set up it was catering for people like myself coming into Northern Ireland," he said.

"It gave guys an opportunity to get together, to get to know about Northern Ireland - it then grew from that to serving the local community.

"Currently what we do is workshops focusing on racism and sectarianism issues.

"We work with community groups - the likes of the PSNI community relations team and local authorities as well."

'Amazing players'

Kingsley Burrows from South Africa has been playing with the team for more than three years.

"With World United I met people in the same boat as myself whereas if I was playing in local clubs I was just meeting people from this country," he said.

"So it was nice to share experiences with people coming to this country, not just sharing with people that live here already."

The team play around every six to eight weeks, and although their main aim is not to become a league team, some of their players have graduated on to some of the local league teams.

"Over the past year we've been getting some amazing players coming through," said team manager Adrian Murphy.

He picks out a closely fought match between World United and the PSNI team as being particularly memorable.

"The match actually got abandoned after about 70 minutes," he said.

"We were 5-2 down at half time and we came back to 5-5 after some great football, but things got a wee bit out of hand and we just called it off but it was all in good fun and good-natured."

With many of the players coming from different countries with their own problems, team members felt disappointed in recent weeks to see reports of racist attacks and incidents in the news.

Racism

Reginald remembers that after leaving Zimbabwe in 2002, while most people welcomed him, he did experience racism in Belfast.

"I've been a victim of racism, it's not a good experience," he said.

"I've had graffiti written on the house once, but the local community did come out to offer their support and a local councillor also came out to reassure us.

"Going through a racist attack was a very traumatic thing but there was a lot of positive support that came from it."

Comparing his experiences to life in South Africa, Kingsley said it saddened him to see racist attacks in Northern Ireland.

"It was 1994 when Mandela came into power and the peace process started around the same time here," he said.

"I didn't think I would leave South Africa and experience or see acts of racism or things like that in other countries.

"I think South Africa's come a long way to come out of their problems, so to see it in another country seems sad and weird."

On the success of World United so far, Reginald says the best thing about the team is the help it provides for people coming to Northern Ireland for the first time.

"The integration process doesn't have to be a painful one," he said.

"I would encourage people to move to Northern Ireland - it's good craic."

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