There were eight or nine of us playing keepie uppie; although, the number varied as different men joined, and others drifted off. Some were friends and others vague acquaintances. I knew no one.
I’m a ropey footballer at the best of times, but wearing a bulky coat and walking boots, I was comfortably the worst in the circle. It must have been a test of their patience as the flat Paris Saint-Germain ball flopped, again and again, onto the uneven surface.
We exchanged smiles and the occasional “Ooo” of appreciation, but the game was played in near-silence. After-all, aside from varying degrees of English, we shared no common language.
Amongst us were Iranians and Iraqis, those from Sudan and Somali. One had a cup of tea in his hand, another gripped a bag full of warm clothes.
The ball would occasionally roll into the road or under the vans parked in the lay-by we were playing besides. In the near distance were second hand tents, brightly coloured under the grey sky.
I’d come with charity Care4Calais and was heading back to London the next day. The easiest of journeys for me but the hardest for those other men in the keepie uppie circle. A circle made up of asylum seekers and migrants.
The young and the old. The confident and the shy. Men from varying cultures and belief systems. Each with their own unique story of struggle.
But at that moment, as we knocked around a ball, we were unified. Unified by the world’s most powerful sport. Maybe the world’s most powerful passion, full stop.
Working in sports marketing its easy to get blasé or maybe even cynical about football. But this was an emotive reminder, for me at least, that even in the grimmest of circumstances, it really can be the “beautiful game”.
Let’s not lose sight of that.
To find out more about the refugee crisis in France and Belgium, and support the charities in the region, James Masters recommends you check out the following organisations: Care4Calais (https://care4calais.org/) and Refugee Community Kitchen (https://www.refugeecommunitykitchen.com/).