Sport has the power to bring people together regardless of age, race, gender, culture, or nationality. It can breakdown barriers and help connect people who share the same interests regardless of cultural or language barriers.
Formed in 2011, United Glasgow are an inclusive football club open to all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or immigration status.
With over 300 players and volunteers from over 40 nationalities, what is it that makes United Glasgow so welcoming to people from all walks of life?
Everyone is welcome
United Glasgow chairperson, Julie Mulcahy said: “Our two guiding principles when the project began were anti-discrimination and financial inclusion.
“We try and make football accessible and affordable for all our players no matter their background. Everyone is welcome.
“By keeping our costs to an absolute minimum and not charging players for games or training where we can, we manage to bring together individuals from communities who would otherwise probably never have met through a shared love of football.”
They are determined to foster an environment where everyone is equal and has a right to participate. Due to the background of many of the players, kit such as boots, clothing and shin pads are provided by the club to anyone that may need it, with no risk of being judged.
“Nothing is said if anyone doesn’t turn up in kit. For many the most difficult thing is turning up in the first place. Once they do their past is forgotten and then they can do what makes them happy, playing football.”
The club run a mix of community drop-in sessions for both men and women, as well as competitive team training for those wishing to play at a competitive level. There are two competitive men’s teams and a women’s team, alongside two community drop-in sessions across Glasgow. The community sessions then act as a pathway from community to the competitive teams.
Their ethos of inclusion and acceptance has seen a steady increase in popularity and support over the years.
Julie said: “The main way we attract new members is through word of mouth. As more and more people understand the work going on at the club, we have had an increase in people wanting to support.
“We have a lot of referrals from our partners, social work and schools recommending people they work with to come along to one of our community drop-in sessions to adjust to their new lives here in Scotland.
“The language barrier can be hard at times, but everyone is so supportive of one another and that makes it such a positive environment.”
The club aims to help wider social outcomes, with volunteers helping to develop players English, IT skills or support their academic studies.
The coaches, many of which have been refugees or asylum seekers themselves, support the club on a voluntary basis and provide the players with a role model or someone to support and understand what they are going through. A buddy scheme has also been created which aims to buddy up current players and new players from the same countries to help integrate them into the club quicker.
It isn’t just refugees and asylum seekers that join United Glasgow. The club also help promote and defend the rights of ethnic minorities and the LGBT community within Scotland.
Youth refugee and asylum seeker programme
The club has recently launched their youth refugee and asylum seeker programme in partnership with PEPASS Glasgow.
They have been able to offer free community sessions to children aged 12-17 in the south of the city, and through the support of Active Schools have been able to access the schools to identify young people who would benefit from attending the sessions.
The sessions will be a fun way for the young people to interact while helping to support their physical and mental wellbeing.
Through funding from Active Schools as well as from the local Community Sport Hubs, the sessions will run until June, with one session being held at Toryglen Football Centre and one at Nethercraig Sports Complex each week.
Claire Clark, an Active Schools coordinator in Glasgow said: “We have over 50 pupils from schools across the south of Glasgow as well as other areas across the city and other local authorities attending the sessions.
“We have worked hard to create an environment where pupils feel comfortable and safe, allowing pupils to be who they are.
"It’s been lovely to watch friendships develop and see the huge impact the project is having on the pupils' health and wellbeing."
The club, in partnership with St Francis Primary School and Barnardo’s, also recently launched a football mentoring scheme. The aim of the scheme is to offer children from the primary school, who are less likely to follow the universal routes into football training, the opportunity to take part in organised coaching football sessions, and show them the benefits of training and taking part in the group activities.
The club was able to provide each of the children taking part a new pair of football boots along with the club’s home shirt and a certificate of completion.
United Glasgow show no sign of slowing down in their mission to make football more accessible as Julie said: “We hope to continue to change the lives of people within Glasgow and that the project continues to grow – incorporating more community education and inclusion projects in partnership with other organisations – and result in a true community football club which represents all of Glasgow.”