Relatively few know about the Yorkshire St Pauli supporters’ group. Established in 2011, the supporters’ group assembles in Leeds, approximately 1200 km away from FC St Pauli’s home ground Millerntor-Stadion, to watch the club’s matches online through live streaming.
The club’s “fan clubs”, scattered in different locations all over Europe, mirror St Pauli’s left wing and proactive approach to politics as well. The Yorkshire supporter group raised funds for refugees and encouraged them to come along and watch the St Pauli games.
They then joined a five-a-side league but more refugees wanted to play football and the number continued to grow. Something more needed to be done. This eventually led to Yorkshire St Pauli establishing the “Football For All” project. In this weekly “kickabout”, St Pauli supporters provide kits and boots, ensuring that money is not any sort of barrier which restricts participation.
A brave movie at a turbulent time
Donald Trump’s refugee and immigrant ban left many shell-shocked. People have been vehemently speaking on the matter, but the media’s voice has been called “fake” and curbed with some intensity. Across the Atlantic, not long ago, they, though, were seemingly even more despicable when some of the media itself engaged in restraining the public’s freedom to speech.
When a group of child refugees landed in Britain, the right-wing tabloids went into a frenzy. Their pages were spattered with claims that refugees were lying about their ages and cheating their way into entering the country. One celebrity’s 123-character long opinion stuck out like a sore thumb. It was mainly because for most, he had no business opining on the matter. Former England striker and current football pundit with BBC, Gary Lineker remarked via Twitter,
The Sun grew incensed at this show of compassion from the former striker and ran a front-page article calling him a “Leftie Luvvie” peddling a lie, and demanded BBC fire him. Lineker has become part of the “liberal elite” and has plenty of company in the rather maligned group. Perhaps what was most troublesome was people, and media asking the former footballer and pundit to “stick to football”.
This is precisely why Liverpool’s decision to release a documentary on Dejan Lovren’s refugee experience was a brave and commendable move.
Lovren’s jarring memories
The plight of refugees is something that needs to be shed more light on from a different perspective than what has been offered so far. Many are talking about the predicament but how many of the voices have reached a large audience? A different perspective would also help the section that is well-versed on the matter.
From a club that produced the cringe inducing Being: Liverpool, comes a remarkable creative piece. Courtesy of LFC TV, defender Dejan Lovren’s difficult early life has been documented in Dejan Lovren: My Life as a Refugee.
In the documentary, the Bosnian-born centre-back speaks about the jarring memories he endured as a three-year-old when a civil war broke out that consumed the lives of almost 100,000 people. He vividly remembers the sirens and the 17-hour drive to Germany, the country his family would flee to. The picture of clinging to his mother in a basement shelter to escape the bombs is lurid in Lovren’s memories. It is rare to see a footballer recount these memories while still playing, let alone have his own club produce this and put it out for millions of fans and enthusiasts to watch.
Lovren calls Germany his “second home”, the country his family fled to because of some “luck”. Thousands of families were not as fortunate. His uncle’s brother, he remarked, was brutally killed with a knife in front of some agonised eyes
Most countries would refuse refugees from Bosnia at the time, but Germany was kind. The deal, however, was that a refugee family must move away after the war was over. Sadly, this agreement also meant that the refugee family must disrupt its life abruptly. When Dejan Lovren became comfortable, happy with life in his adopted home – he began playing football in a little club with his father as the coach – he was asked to pack his bags.
His family moved to Croatia and had started life again. It’s not easy changing countries, moving homes and the Lovren family had to do so with considerable financial difficulties. Despite the idiosyncratic experience, the refugees who suffered the agony that comes with unstable home conditions and displacement and rehabilitation have some common features. They face an abrupt loss of innocence that comes without warning, leaving them despairingly clinching to the hopes of making it to another country’s border and then waiting on whether they will be accepted. Terrorised and vulnerable, their lives were transformed into something the young souls couldn’t begin to fathom.
‘People need to know’
Lovren and his family have lived in Croatia since. Things have become pleasant with the 27-year-old centre-back finding success in his profession. Despite the years passing, his family has found it difficult to speak on the matter. His mother, in fact, didn’t even want her son to talk to LFC TV about it, but the footballer was adamant. “People need to know,” he remarked.
Watching the documentary, instead of reading articles about it, would offer the viewer a lot of great insights into the struggles of a refugee and subsequently another perspective into assessing the situation and formulating an opinion. One has the freedom of being on either side of the fence but what needs to stop is asking someone to stick to their respective professional fields and presumably their area of expertise. It is incredibly insidious, especially when it comes to these pressing issues. It should arguably not occur for any topic, but given the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis, it makes the idea of curbing a player, a club or an association’s voice even more problematic.
People need to be encouraged to speak up on things and exercise their right to free speech. They cannot and should not be asked to shut up whenever someone is made uncomfortable on the matter or disagrees by principal. Don’t agree with them, but don’t ask them to keep quiet either.
‘Give them a chance’
These stars and clubs are going beyond the call of duty and doing their community and the larger society a huge favour. Liverpool had no reason to make this documentary. Lovren’s family was not too keen on the idea of Dejan speaking about these tarnished and cruel memories and reliving them. In the light of the volatile political envelope that has managed to encircle us in recent months, the timing of this is even more poignant. Just a few days ago, the United Kingdom government ended a commitment to rehousing 3,000 Syrian child refugees, limiting the number to 350.
In the hope that people will listen, and perhaps understand the value of empathy and inclusion, Dejan Lovren looks to the camera and makes a plea:
“Give them a chance. You can see who the good people are and who are not”.