When Mezhgan Alizadah and her friends began organising casual games of soccer at Shepparton’s Ducat Reserve last November, they had to use makeshift goals from plastic water bottles.
Four months later, the now 30 person-strong group of multicultural youth and newly arrived refugees have been gifted not one soccer goal, but two, and a range of merchandise from Melbourne City Football Club.
Ethnic Council of Shepparton strategic engagement coordinator Sam Atukorala organised the sponsorship when he saw an article in the Shepparton News, calling for help to secure goals.
When Mezghan Alizah and her friends began began organising casual games of soccer at Shepparton’s Ducat Reserve last November, they had to use makeshift goals from plastic water bottles.
Four months later, the now 30-person-strong group of multi-cultural youth and newly arrived refugees have been gifted not one soccer goal, but two, and a range of merchandise from Melbourne City Football Club.
Ethnic Council of Shepparton strategic engagement eo-ordinator Sam Atukorala organised the sponsorship when he saw an article in the Shepparton News, calling for help to secure goals.
“I had connections at Melbourne City, and thought, ‘Why don’t I use that,’ he said. These guys had the need and when I asked them, they were happy to help. All they needed was a goal post, but Melbourne City provided sets of shirts and shorts, water bottles and soccer balls for the team, which includes a cross-section of the community, from nine-year-old boys through to 28-year-old women.
Mr Atukorala planned to organise tickets so the group would eventually be able to head to a game and play on a professional ground at half-time. “Melbourne City have a big heart — they’re very much into community connections in sport,” he said. “Melbourne City’s Abraham Abraham made the trip to deliver this stuff to Shepparton — he came all the way from the club. “That actually is special.”
For Mr Atukorala, the impact of the social soccer games every evening went far beyond keeping kids off electronic devices. “This is physical, good for your health) and a long-term hope for them because if they’re good, they might end up at a local club,” he said. “That’s what we want, that’s the biggest impact. Because when young people don’t have opportunities, they can be found on the wrong side of the legal system.
“There’s no point blaming young kids if you don’t provide them the opportunities to get engaged.” The soccer group began among a small group of Afghani-Hazara women, but had since grown to attract new arrivals from across the globe.
Every night at 7.30 pm, a new member would turn up, and then another. “There are so many nationalities playing this game — not only Afghani kids but Iraqis, Syrians, all the newly arrived kids come and play,” Mr Atukorala said. “That’s social integration, as a community we have to support these things … it’s our responsibility to give them opportunities and connect them the best way we can.
“It’s not a lot when it comes to the cost, the materialistic things, kids just need a ball and they have fun.” Ms Alizadah said it had also provided a safe space for Hazara women in the Shepparton community. “Our group really brings the girls out of the house,” she said. “Usually in our communities when girls my age get married — they stop any socialisation or sports, they literally stop.
“However at the beginning of the year, we had two young girls who got married and still came. They broke a lot of taboos to continue to come and play, even the day after their wedding, which is usually unacceptable. “They still did that, because that’s how important coming here and kicking the ball is.” Ms Alizadah said with the equipment, they would finally be able to discard the plastic bottles for good.
“]ust because we have this, the girls and the young boys are so excited,” she said. “All of them run towards the goals to set it up. “We didn’t expect this much, only a couple of goals and a ball. It doesn’t have to be big, but these small tokens inspire and encourage our young ones, and other kids to join us.”