University of Reading: Football tournament brings communities together

A football tournament held at the University of Reading during Refugee Week brought different community groups together in the spirit of unity.

Sanctuary Strikers Football Club is Berkshire’s only refugee football team. The club hosted the Reading Community Cup this year thanks to a donation from the Community Fund, a joint initiative between the John Sykes Foundation and the University of Reading.

The tournament, held on Saturday 25 June, included three other Reading-based football teams (Giveback FC, Bracknell Panthers and Wayback Wanderers) and was held on the University’s Whiteknights campus.

The final saw Sanctuary Strikers take on Give Back FC. After a tense penalty shoot-out, Give Back FC were crowned the winners of the tournament.

Joel Joseph, Manager and co-founder of Sanctuary Strikers FC, said: “The Reading Community Cup is an opportunity to bring local football teams together in the spirit of community and, at the same time, helps raise awareness of Sanctuary Strikers FC and our aims as a club.”

“Building bridges”

Sanctuary Strikers FC was started in 2017 by Tomson Chauke, a refugee from Zimbabwe, and Joel Joseph, a refugee from Tanzania. What started out as a kick about in a local park quickly turned into the formation of a proper club with some kick-start funding from the Football Association (FA).

As well as playing football, the overarching aim of the club is to bring together people from different countries and backgrounds to build a culture of inclusivity and understanding.

Tomson Chauke, Chairman and co-founder of Sanctuary Strikers FC, said: ‘Our main mission is not just to play football but to build a bridge for social integration. We want our players to integrate well within society and in so doing, increase their sense of belonging.”

“Long-term growth”

In February 2021, the club approached the University for support in growing and expanding the club for new and future players.

Molli Cleaver, Community Relations Manager at the University, began working with the team and together, along with Reading University Students’ Union and Reading FC Community Trust, they put forward a bid for £8,000, over a two-year period, through the new Community Fund initiative.

The money will be used to create a package of activities which will address some of the football club’s most urgent needs.

Activities include coaching, referee and first aid training for players which is a barrier to growth. The money will also go towards the setting up of regular open football sessions throughout the year, to help with recruitment of new players. And better equipment will enable the club to continue running, alongside delivering engaging and exciting training sessions.

Molli said: “In addition to the support for the Reading Community Cup, the money from the Community Fund will enable Sanctuary Strikers FC to do all the things most local football teams do week in week out as part of their training and match preparation, with the right skills and equipment to do it.”

Tomson said: “As many of our players are refugees, we do not have the funds that most local teams gain through player subscriptions. We are incredibly grateful to the University of Reading and the John Sykes Foundation. The money donated will support our training activities and long-term growth plans.”