Thursday, 14 February 2019

Unity 101 v Forest Home

Unity 101 FC. One gold star so far.
I'm a middle-aged English white guy. I have my problems, just like anyone else. But being the subject of racist abuse isn't one of them.

I was never a footballer beyond school age, but I did play hockey for a while. I've always worn glasses, so playing as a hockey goalkeeper was ideal, what with the scary mask keeping my eyes safe. And hockey is just like football with sticks and a ridiculously hard ball. It was second-best, but sometimes you have to accept that second-best is good enough.

I played for a team with some older white men. I was a bit intimidated by them, to be honest. They all had cars and jobs and talked very loud. I had a rusty bicycle, thick spectacles, spots and no money. Obviously, I listened to The Smiths. Morrissey understood me.

There was a Sikh on my team. He was a decent player, but I never heard him speak. The problem was, the older white men were constantly horrible to him. Not just banter, but sheer nastiness, all the time, with absolutely no let-up. To them, he had different coloured skin, therefore he was subhuman. It was the first time I had witnessed racism in action and I didn't like it. Nowadays, I'd like to think I would stand up to them and call them out, but as an awkward teenager with little self-confidence, I couldn't do it. I just walked out and never went back.

Unity 101's home pitch at Cantell School. School alumni include Coldplay's drummer, Will Champion.
Details:
Unity 101 FC (3) 7 v 0 (0) Forest Home FC (can't find any link for them, sorry)
Sunday 10th February 2019
City of Southampton Sunday Football League Junior Division 3
Attendance: One man and his dog (literally!)
Admission: Through reception at Cantell School and out the other side and down the path.
Programme: No
Colours: Yellow / black / black v Orange / black / orange
National Grid reference: SU4215

Tom Gilham, docker during the week, 'baller on a Sunday, controls the ball on his chest. In monochrome for no particular reason.
I wonder what those vile men would think of Unity 101 FC? This is a team that play at the fourth level of Sunday football in Southampton (Junior Division 3). They play their home matches on the artificial pitch at Cantell School in Highfield.

They're a team that prides themselves on inclusivity. Whatever your skin colour, wherever you're from, you'll be accepted in to the fold for who you are (and before anyone says that they discriminate against white men - they don't - literally everyone is welcome).

The same is true of the radio station whose name they share (which has been broadcasting for 13 years now). Tune in at any given time, and you might hear Punjabi folk music or some jolly tabla music from Afghanistan, a Polish music and chat show or an hour-long programme from the students of Richard Taunton College. All the communities that make up the city of Southampton are represented, with all the rich variety of languages that can be heard throughout the city. You can tune in live, or listen to a programme of your choice here.

Some players play for Unity 101 FC because they've heard about them on the radio, others will come because they have friends who play for them. Others will just turn up for training sessions to keep fit and make friends. It's like many other clubs in that respect.

There's an excellent film made about Unity 101 FC by Gurpreet Singh. You can see it here (with a longer film to follow). Some of the players that featured on Sunday are shown at home and at work. Gurpreet revealed the people behind the players. Not just 11 men in yellow shirts, they're all living, breathing human beings with different back stories who come together to enjoy their hobby on a Sunday. Yes, just like every other team, but you don't see this sort of thing very often. Highly recommended (there's also a link on the HAH Facebook group page if you scroll down far enough).

Bale-esque skills from Taylor Brown.
Not featured in the film, but starring on the pitch on Sunday was Taylor Brown. I was told he was on the books of MK Dons and is currently studying at uni in Southampton. He was one of the standout players on Sunday, scoring the first two goals with a pair of penalties and setting up the third goal, headed in by Shazur Rahman at the back post. It had been an even start, with Forest Home hitting the bar in the first minute, but after Unity took the lead there was no looking back as they led 3-0 at half-time.

Forest Home (who play their home games in Blackfield) had the perfect chance to get back in the game just after half-time, but they hit the bar for a second time, this time from a penalty. From then on, they weren't seen again as an attacking force, as Rahman scored a superb fourth as he slalomed down the left touchline evading any opponent who got near hime before sliding the ball just inside the post.

Then it was the turn of Ugandan under-23 international Imran Mpaata to make an impact from the bench (yes, Unity 101 have an international playing for them!). Two brilliant solo goals and a 25 yard thunderbolt free-kick which hit the post. Not bad for a 30 minute cameo! Imran has an interesting story. You can read about how his mother set up a footballing academy in Mombasa for the local children and how it has grown here. Her son may well have a decent future in the game. If any scouts read this blog, you could do worse than pop along and watch Imran play for Unity or his university team at Solent.

With ten minutes to play, manager Naz Azram brought himself on. He scored the seventh and final goal on 90 minutes with a cheeky flick with the outside of his left boot. Still got it! The sun then made its only appearance of the day as the ref blew his whistle on a good-tempered Sunday morning contest. Unity 101 will be pleased with their day's work - they played with verve and vigour to entertain the one man and his dog who came to watch (and to entertain themselves). Forest Home will have better days. Maybe next Sunday?

Goalkeeper Shah Kamal keeps warm on a nippy day.
The hockey-playing Sikh guy could have done with a team like Unity to play for back in the day. They would have been a safe space for him - somewhere where he could have made friends instead of being on the end of a constant barrage of crap. I like to think that things have changed for the better in the last 30 years and that most sports clubs are welcoming to everyone, whatever their background, but as a middle-aged white guy, I honestly don't know.

Thank you to Unity 101 FC for inviting me along to take photos. Good luck for the rest of the season to them. And thank you also to Testlands for a similar warm welcome the day before for part one of my double-header weekend.

You will find another 40 or so pictures from Unity 101 v Forest Home on the HAH Facebook page.

I'm busy again on Saturdays for a while now. The next featured game may well be a random midweeker! I'll see what's on in either the Southern or Wessex Leagues over the next couple of weeks and pop along somewhere and take some pictures.

Taylor Brown slots home his second penalty.
Shazur Rahman slides home his second goal of the game.
Imran Mpaata rounds the keeper for his first goal.
One man and his dog watching from the car park.
Player-manager Naz Azram shows off his skills. Still got it!
Friendly handshakes after the final whistle.
Man of the Match Meelad Aslami poses for his post-match photoshoot. At least, he told me he was MoM ;-)