Football game at Ipswich Town Academy between Young Black Males and overseas learners from Volunteering Matters
- Credit: Darren Oxbrow
Teenage boys of 10 different nationalities have come together through the universal language of football.
Some of them have experienced great traumas in their lives, fleeing dangerous situations in war-torn countries and resettling in Ipswich with no family by their side.
Others were raised in deprived areas of the town, and understand what it feels like to be a minority among those around them.
But for 90 minutes the lads were able to forget all of that and do what most teenage boys love – play football.
The match was played at the Ipswich Town training ground in Playford Road two weeks ago.
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On one team were members of Young Black Males (YBM), a youth club aimed at bringing vulnerable boys from different backgrounds in Ipswich together and helping them stay out of trouble.
And on the other team were learners from the Ipswich branch of Volunteering Matters (VM), made up of unaccompanied asylum seekers and young migrants.
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Darren Oxbrow, founder of YBM, said: “We had our concerns, but when we put them together and played the game there was no anger, no animosity, they were accepting of decisions and got on with it. It was played in a really good spirit.
“It was also really competitive – both teams wanted to win. The determination, passion and desire from both teams was incredible.
“It was humbling for people to see how much these lads got from the game.”
Many of the boys didn’t have kit, so bosses at Ipswich Town gave the young players tops and shorts, boots and shin pads for the game.
And after the match, the club awarded the teens with free tickets to the Town versus Queens Park Rangers match on November 26.
Both groups of boys went to Portman Road together to cheer on the blues.
Stephen Skeet, regional manager at VM, said: “A lot of these young people have gone through some pretty indescribable things over the last year and to see them walk down to the football ground together, young people of 10 nationalities integrating, was fantastic.
“To see them identify with Ipswich as a place, which they certainly did in terms of shouting and singing, was pretty powerful stuff, really.”
The group from VM are aged 16 to 18 and are enrolled on a full-time study course, working in the charity’s base at the Old Crown Court in Civic Drive.
They learn English, maths, arts and employability skills.
Mr Skeet said some of the students had come from the Calais Jungle – an illegal refugee and migrant camp in northern France that was shut down by French authorities in October.
YBM and VM are looking at ways the two groups of boys can work together again in the future. “For us any opportunity to get our young people out in the community is fantastic,” Mr Skeet said.
“They are really keen to contribute to the local community. They want to give something back to where they have been given this opportunity.
“When we look at these young people we see they have these issues and problems but actually these young people have so many strengths and so much resilience. They have to to do what they have, so all they need is an opportunity and they will fly.”
Father-of-four Mr Oxbrow is the schools and youth engagement sergeant for Suffolk Constabulary, and a coach at Ipswich Town Academy.
He started YBM almost three years ago in a bid to forge a better relationship between Ipswich’s young black men and the police and to help them strive to achieve great things.
The youth group is open to all, with Mr Oxbrow choosing the name YBM because of the groups of people it could encompass, including Young Bangladeshi Males, Young Black Muslims, Young British Men, Young Business Minds and Young Bright Minds.
It currently has 30 members, with boys from across Ipswich aged between 14 and 18. Mr Oxbrow said 90% of the members were from black and minority ethnic groups.
YBM is soon to launch its own clothing line, selling hats, t-shirts and jumpers to the public. It is also planning to establish a radio show, run completely by the boys.
Ipswich Town academy manager Lee O’Neill said: “We were delighted to host the game and the evening was a terrific success. It was also a humbling one. The game was played on the same day as Black Friday but while the TV was full of stories centred around acquiring more material possessions, we were watching people who don’t have a lot take such great pleasure and pride in playing a game of football at Ipswich Town. It was fantastic to see.”