Football. A game so deeply embedded in the fabric of our society that perhaps every story that can be told about it has already been told. But then a late summer evening treat had yet to unfold…
Recently Eastbourne United’s ground and around 80 riveted spectators witnessed something quite extraordinary – the first ever football match that the Sanctuary United team have played in with their inaugural match against Eastbourne District and General Hospital (EDGH) Team.
The Sanctuary United team was made up of men who had never before played a match together and whose training sessions only began in the week before the match. More importantly, as people seeking asylum, they have faced some of the greatest challenges that life can deliver.
The Hospital team – a group of hospital staff whose journey into existence was borne out of a desire to promote health and well being amongst the staff had pulled together to create a team comprising a wonderful blend of youth and experience. Fresh from their success against their rivals at the Conquest Hospital, they were only too delighted to offer Sanctuary United a game.
A more perfect evening there could not have been. The late summer sun offering the heat and sunshine that demands excellent football.
The shouting and cheering echoed round the ground as the goals poured and the game see-sawed – first one side, then the other getting the upper hand. The pressure on both sides was relentless.
In that time, men who have often been isolated as individuals came together as a team and delivered joy to everyone. There was so much poignancy – a ‘normal’ game of football being far from normal. The usual divisiveness of competition did not apply and the spectators came together in collective shouts of encouragement and joy – celebrating and expressing all our diversity with respect and unity.
At one point Sanctuary United’s number 9 scored and in celebration he raised his top to reveal a cross, RIP and the name of his sister. A reminder of the family he had to leave behind to come here. He scored and in joy remembered his sorrow, the two mingling for him and for all that watched reminding us that this game could never be just a game.
Whilst the EDGH team left the pitch full of respect and sometimes in awe, in the very act of playing and being part of the spectacle, they also gave the opportunity of another small step towards healing.
And the score? 5 – 5 at the final whistle.
In agreement with both captains the scene was set for the dreaded penalty shoot. The energy, joy, competitive spirit that poured out of both teams in those final agonising last minutes was plain to see and the crowd lapped it up. Sadly, for Sanctuary United, it wasn’t their night and the victory went to the EDGH team.
The success of the evening (over £300 was raised to support the work of Sanctuary) and the quality of football has ensured that both teams are likely to face each other again in the future and we look forward to another fantastic game of football.
Special thanks to Eastbourne United Football Ground, all the players and coaches in both teams, the wonderful referee Matt plus the young Oliver who stood in as linesman last minute and finally to Zack who organised the whole event and Dem Shish who kindly provided the kit for Sanctuary United.