Brentford’s recent game against Wolverhampton Wanderers may have been memorable for all the wrong reasons for many but it was an extra special day for a group of young female Afghanistan footballers who were invited to Brentford for the day.
The Afghanistan women’s youth development team were among hundreds of female athletes who fled the country after the Taliban regime took over. They were part of a group of 130 people who made it to the UK to resettle in the country.
The group have found a new home in the north of England, with thanks to efforts from a host of organisations, including Leeds United FC who offered the girls the chance to join their youth development programme.
Preeti Shetty, who sits on the board of Brentford FC, was keen to extend an invite to West London to the group. She said: “The whole idea was to bring the Afghan youth development team to see a new part of the country and for us, this is about making them feel welcome. We wanted them to play football to watch a game to make some new friends and to really feel like they belong in the UK.”
The team enjoyed a training session at our facility at Uxbridge High School led by the Brentford FC Community Sports Trust and then headed to the Brentford Community Stadium for the Wolves game.
Khalida Popal, former captain of the Afghanistan national team, was an instrumental figure in the recent evacuation and resettlement. She joined the girls on the day and proudly watched on the from the sidelines as the girls were put through their paces by the Trust’s coaches and members of the Brentford FC women’s team.
She said: “These players, these young woman, have lost everything in their homes. They are traumatised. They have been through a lot of mental problems and mental issues because of the trauma so of course now they are in the UK, which is fantastic.”
Khalida, who was the recipient of UEFA’s Equal Game Award for her work campaigning for equal rights for women, also spoke passionately about the importance of invitations like this helping to create sense of belonging for those involved. She added: “They will talk about their experience to their family members and that is the feeling of being welcome, it is the feeling of home the feeling of being supported and this is fantastic feeling.”
The group were joined at Uxbridge by London-based girls from the Afghan & Central Asian Association. The ACAA work with Afghans and Central Asian living away from their homeland and provide them with skills and support to help them prosper in the UK.