Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme
This is the footballer
I got noticed at 13 and was signed by Al-Karamah, my home club in Homs. I progressed to the first team and won the Syrian cup in 2010, saving two penalties in the shoot-out. I played for the Syrian national team for two years at 16 and played in qualifiers for the Olympics.
Since a peaceful protest for democratic reform turned into Civil War, Syria has been decimated. According to Shelterbox.org, one in four schools have been damaged, half of the hospitals no longer function, and millions of hectares of farmland have been destroyed, forcing half of the population to flee their homes. Some have arrived in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (VPRS). Others through sheer will and determination.
We spoke to some of these people to put a face to the statistics, to remember ordinary people doing ordinary jobs and living an ordinary life were forced to leave their home. This is one of their stories. This is the footballer.
My name is Fahd. I have loved football from a very young age. I got noticed at 13 and was signed by Al-Karamah, my home club in Homs. My father, who died a few months ago, did everything to support me. He paid for travel on the bus, food, goalkeeper gloves – everything. He didn’t have a lot of money, but he always managed to find it. Our neighbours disapproved of me playing. They wanted to know why I didn’t get a job instead.
Comic art panel from What is Coming
The faith my father showed paid off. I progressed to the first team and won the Syrian cup in 2010, saving two penalties in the shoot-out. I played for the Syrian national team for two years at 16 and played in qualifiers for the Olympics.
My wife Tahrir and I got married on 23 January 2011. We are cousins. All my team-mates came, and we cooked for everyone. It was a lovely day, although it rained for 15 minutes and we all got wet. The war started a few months later when the government opened fire at protesters.
Tahrir was pregnant with our first child, but it was too difficult for us to use the local hospital because our home was in the middle of two different factions, so there was gunfire. Instead she went to Tartus, which is about an hour away on the coast. She was in labour for over ten days and so my friend drove me each day because I did not have a car at the time. When Nour was born we moved in with my parents because they lived in a safer area. I went to our house to collect our stuff, but it was on fire. I tried to grab things like photographs, but everything was burning so I had to leave. We lost everything.
I tried to continue training, but it became impossible. The ground was 30 minutes away and I kept getting stopped: Who are you? Why are you still training? Where is your I.D? It was hard to concentrate, and I did not like leaving my wife on her own. Survival was all that mattered.
Eventually we had to leave Syria. We lived in Jordan, the Emirates and then eventually came to Mansfield as part of the British government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) in December 2015.
Learning to adapt to the culture has been difficult. For example, in Syria I would do the shopping and driving. My wife would not be allowed to open the door to another man if I wasn’t in the house. Similarly, if we had friends over then the men and women would sit separately. Not as we are now, speaking to you. In Britain everything is so different, and we are learning to adapt. Tahrir does volunteering work to help improve her English, whereas in Syria she would only have gone out if accompanied by female friends.
Another strange thing is how quiet our street is here. Sometimes I can walk for ten minutes and not see anyone. We are used to people being up till 2am in the morning, talking outside with neighbours. But the biggest mystery for us was why everybody sat in the dark in the evening with the little light. We thought it was tradition and so lit a candle in the evening and switched the lights out. Later we discovered the bright light was a television screen.
I would love to be a goalkeeper for a big British club, like my hero Peter Schmeichel. Or to play sport again. But until then I have been volunteering at Queen Elizabeth Academy secondary school. This keeps me busy and helps improve my English. It is such a difficult language to learn at 31. I keep a notebook with me to record new words and my two sons teach me.
When the war ends in Syria it will take a long time for heals to wound. Everyone knows someone who has died. I have lost two of my former team-mates. There are many friends as well who we have not spoken to for years and have no idea whether they are alive or dead. Even if I could return, where would I go? My house has been destroyed.
It is better now to have an idea for a new life. I am studying an Activity Leadership course and have a Foundation Degree certificate in Sport Coach and Development. If I cannot play football, I would like to teach it. I will write to every college and school and ask for an opportunity. That’s all I need. One opportunity.
Fahd spoke to James Walker on 29 April 2018 in Beeston, Nottingham. Maamon acted as translator.
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