Five a side match

Football Welcomes: Imad Akjouj and Sina Saman Nejad

Goal Click and Amnesty UK have interviewed Imad and Sina as part of Football Welcomes month.

To mark Football Welcomes month, Goal Click teamed up with Amnesty International UK for a special series telling stories from refugees across the country through football.

Now in its fifth year, Football Welcomes month, supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, celebrates the contribution players from a refugee background make to the game, and highlights the role football can play in creating more welcoming communities for refugees.

Imad Akjouj and Sina Saman Nejad, originally from Morocco and Iran, share their stories below. 

Sina Saman Nejad

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Sina Saman Nejad. I am From Iran and 29 years old. I have lived in Liverpool since the end of 2011. I had played football in an Academy when I was 8 years old and I have been playing football in Liverpool since 2012. I am now playing football with the Liverpool County FA asylum seeker and refugees’ team. I started the FA Level 1 in Coaching Football in Liverpool in March 2020. I also started the Certificate in Football Tactical Analyst from Barça Innovation Hub in May 2020 and will finish the course in December 2020.

Where were the photos taken? Who is in these photos?

The photos were taken in Merseyside – at the Liverpool County FA (LCFA) Soccer Centre at Walton Hall Park, at the Anfield Sports and Community Centre, and the Tiber Football Centre in Toxteth.

In one photo is Imad, who I have known since 2019, at the Anfield Sports and Community Centre. There is a photo with Stuart Carrington, at a session at the LCFA. Stuart is one of my best coaches I have had in my football life. There is also a photo with the Liverpool refugee and asylum seeker team post-session in Toxteth, Liverpool.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

I tried to show who I am. Football is my life and love. Liverpool and the football culture in Merseyside is the best place in England for refugees to play football, supported by Liverpool County FA. 

When and why did you start playing football? Who did you play with?

I played football in the street - when I was 8 years old my father took me to Shamoushak Noshahr FC Academy. I played in Shamoushak until I was 18, training with the good players of Shamoushak first team; Mohammad Reza Khalatbari, Maysam Baou, Mohsen Bengar, Rahman Ahmadi. But I got injured and I had problems in Iran, so I went to the UK at the end of 2011 as an asylum seeker. I played football from 2012 in Liverpool with different local teams and my church team; 11 a side, 7 a side, 5 a side, but it was hard because my English was poor, and I was waiting for my visa until 2015.

It was hard to find an opportunity in Liverpool to play for a team until I finished my GCSEs in English and Maths at Hugh Baird College. At college my tutor put me in contact with the Liverpool County FA and I met Stuart Carrington at the Anfield Sports and Community Centre. I started playing in an asylum seekers team from September 2019. It was good for me to find good friends at the Liverpool County FA who helped me and many asylum seekers and refugees. They gave us football boots, shirts, shorts, socks, food and drinks. The Liverpool County FA support refugees for L1, L2, and L3 FA coaching, football conferences, refereeing and more.  

Why is football important to you?

Football is another life for me. Before Covid-19 I played and after lockdown it was so hard for me. I started to study for my Certificate in Football Tactical Analyst online with Barça Universitas. The Barça Innovation Hub shares the knowledge of the club with new generations. I am working online, and every month have an assessment. I work on analysis and tactics, but the important thing for me is to pass all the qualifications to be a UEFA coach and work for the England national teams or bigger clubs like Liverpool, Everton and Barcelona. 

What role does football play in your life at the moment?

The football industry has help me to have a better life, but at the moment it is more study and work on my football tactical analysis. I am playing with the refugees’ team and I found very good friends in football and through social media.

To what extent has football helped you make friends and get to know people in the local community?

All people are kind and lovely with me in Liverpool when they know I am playing football and studying football coaching and tactical analysis.

How important is football in the community you live in?

Football is very important and famous in Liverpool because of the two teams, blue and red, Everton and Liverpool. I am lucky to play football in Merseyside and study in Liverpool.

What ambitions do you have for the future?

I have the goal to finish all my qualifications to be a professional football coach and work for the England national team. 

Imad Akjouj

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Imad Akjouj. I’m from Fez in Morocco and am 29 years old. I was playing football for nearly 20 years in Morocco. I played football for Mas Maghrib Fasi football team (Maghreb Association Sportive de Fès) in Morocco when I was only 9 years old. I played in Italy in Milan for nearly 10 years and I have played football for around 4 years in Liverpool.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

The photos are of a Liverpool asylum seekers team supported by the Liverpool County FA. They are all my friends. All the photos were taken on Tiber Football Centre pitch in Toxteth, Liverpool. I know some players from Asylum Link, and we have been playing football for 3 years in Liverpool. I know another player from Liverpool City College, when we were playing for the asylum team. I wanted to show the happiness and great feeling when we are playing football.

Why is football important to you?

Football is important for me because everyone respects this sport and it is helping my future. It helps me meet friends and it is how I spend my free time. It is important to learn and listen to the coach. I want to be a famous football player in Liverpool and England.

All the photos in this article have been taken by Sina and Imad on disposable cameras, which they were given to help them document their football lives and communities.