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OUR TOP 5 REFUGEES IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL

The Corinthians were aware, more than most, of the important role football can play in providing respite in challenging times. Both at home and abroad, they were famous for using their notoriety for charitable good and often used their global tours to help reunite broken communities - both in Germany after WW1 and in South Africa, shortly after the Boer War.

Like all of us involved with football today, the Corinthians would have surely been horrified by the amount of refugees displaced by the Middle Eastern conflicts in recent years. Men, women and children forced to build a new life many miles from their homes.

And it's here where football can be so powerful, for sport has no language and football is the common dialect of the world. There have been many incredible stories of fans welcoming refugees to their clubs, and of clubs themselves donating millions toward refugee projects.

So, to celebrate National Refugee Day today, we've selected our Top 5 present-day players who've reached the game's zenith against all odds, overcoming some of the most challenging personal circumstances imaginable. 

 

1. Fabrice Muamba

Muamba was born in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). His father fled the country in 1994 because of his political views and arrived in the United Kingdom seeking asylum. In 1999 he was granted indefinite leave to remain at which point he was joined by the rest of his family. They settled in east London and, despite having arrived in Britain aged 11 unable to speak English,  he went on to achieve 10 GCSEs and A-levels in english, french and mathematics.

Fabrice represented Arsenal, Birmingham and Bolton Wanderers before being struck down in 2012 with a terrifying cardiac arrest while playing against Tottenham Hotspur. An incident that shook the game at the time, Fabrice's heart actually stopped for an incredible 78 minutes and, ultimately, forced his early retirement. 

However, he still works in the game as a television pundit, as a youth team coach and as a philanthropist. 

 

2. Christian Benteke

Benteke was also born in Kinshasa, Zaire - today the DRC - in 1990. He and his family fled during the Mobutu regime and in 1993 emigrated to Liege, Belgium.

Benteke has gone on to become one of the leading talents in todays Premier League. Making his name at Aston Villa, he signed to Liverpool for £32.5 million before again switching to Crystal Palace for a further £32 million.

 

3. Saido Berahino

Born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, Berahino played football as a child with a ball of plastic bags tied up with laces. His father was killed in 1997 during the Burundian Civil War and he travelled to England alone at the age of 10 to join his mother, brother and sisters who had already been granted asylum in Newtown, Birmingham. 

But he could not locate his family on arrival and was put in a care home. After his mother Liliane was finally traced, immigration officials administered a DNA test to confirm their relationship.

And yet, despite those difficult beginnings, the young Berahino became one of the most sought after talents at West Bromwich Albion before signing for Stoke City in January this year.

 

4. Victor Moses

Moses was born in Lagos, Nigeria, the son of a Christian pastor. When he was 11, his parents were among thousands killed by rioters. A week later, with his travel being paid for by relatives, Moses came to Britain as an asylum seeker.

It wasn't long before Crystal Palace spotted the prodigious youngster playing at a nearby school to their stadium. Moving him to a private school under a scholarship, Moses went on to score 50 goals in a season for the school that year, winning the National Under-14 Championship.

Moses enjoyed perhaps his finest year this past season, 2016/17, where he at last became a regular name on the Chelsea team sheet, helping them to win the Premier League once again.

 

5. Luca Modrić

Luka Modrić was born on the 9th September 1985 and was raised near a village close to Zadar in SR Croatia, then a republic within Yugoslavia. His childhood coincided with the Croatian War of Independence; in 1991 when the war escalated, his family were forced to flee the area. His father joined the Croatian Army and Modrić's grandfather, Luka, and six other elderly civilians were executed by Croatian Serb rebels in December 1991 in the village of Jesenice. 

Modrić became a refugee and lived with his family in a hotel in Zadar. According to Luka Modrić, he was mostly unaware of the war because he befriended many other children and their parents did not let it affect their childhoods. It was in these incredibly difficult circumstances, that Modrić first began playing football. In 1992, he simultaneously entered primary school and a local sporting academy, the latter paid for with the little money the family had. He participated in representative camps and trained in NK Zadar. He was under tutelage of coach Domagoj Bašić and the head of the youth academy Tomislav Bašić. Tomislav Bašić said Modrić's father made him wooden shin guards because they had so little money.

And the rest is history... via London, playing for Tottenham Hotspur, the diminutive midfielder signed for Real Madrid for a fee said to be £30 million. Central to all that the club does on the field today, Modric was recently the outstanding player as Real yet again won the UEFA Champions League, his third with the club since 2014.

 

A participant in Notts County's Football in the Community refugee programme © PA/EFL

Remarkably, it has been 80 years since the very first refugees played professional football in the UK. In 1937, after hundreds of civilians were killed in the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, thousands fled the bombs raining down on the Basque Country. 
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Among them were nearly 4,000 children who arrived in Southampton from Bilbao on a recommissioned cruise ship a few weeks later. No-one knew it then, but six of the boys on the boat would become professional footballers in England - the first refugees to play in the English Football League.
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There will no doubt be similar stories in the future, with boys from those boats, sailing across the Mediterranean, escaping the current wars in the Middle East, going on to have wonderful careers and bringing joy to us all.
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Corinthian 1882, for those who celebrate and elevate the Beautiful Game.
Corinthian 1882 Centre Tee

 

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