PtG Article 05.12.2016

Immigrants and football among subjects at Football Collective conference

Questionable treatment of immigrants in Italian football was laid bare at the first conference of the new Football Collective in Manchester, England.

Doctor Max Mauro, an Italian academic and journalist, detailed how the 1.1 million foreign nationals in Italy aged under 18, including 650,000 born in Italy, are subjected to forms of exclusion from playing football.

“They can go to school but they cannot play football,” said Dr Mauro. “Football is in crisis in Italy now.”

Dr Mauro blamed the lengthy registration process for non-European Union children when following the FIFA rules but also pointed to how the Italian Football Association, the FIGC, refuses registration to unaccompanied minors and the children of Roma.

A quota system introduced in the Italian third tier, Serie C, also makes it difficult for the children of immigrants aspiring to play professionally.

“These are not players who are going to be famous, but they want to earn a living to play football for they are going to Slovenia, Slovakia and Scotland to play,” said Dr Mauro, who is the author of a new book on the subject, ‘The Balotelli generation: Issues of Inclusion and Belonging in Italian Football and Society’.

Young players who have represented Italy at football are now starting to turn their back on the country to play for the land of their parents due to the problems.

Dr Mauro added: “This reflects the negative public attitudes to immigration in Italy and is about the shift from the rights of the man to the rights of the citizen.”

The presentation was a highlight of the conference on November 30, which was staged at Broadhurst Park, the home of FC United of Manchester, a supporter-owned club set up by disaffected Manchester United fans.

Hijabs and hat tricks

A more positive experience amongst children of immigrants was detailed in a presentation about the Diverse City FC club, which was formed in Dublin as part of the Hijabs and Hat tricks programme developed by Sport Against Racism Ireland, Street World Football and Sony.

The club was formed specifically to cater for girls who were the children of immigrants or from racial minorities in the Republic of Ireland and felt unable to join other more established clubs.

“These are a very diverse range of children and by playing together they developed a greater understanding of each other,” said Dr James Carr from the University of Limerick in a presentation entitled ‘Building Social Inclusion through football’.

The conference featured a range of academics, journalists and practioners, who are aiming to make a difference and provide a challenge to how football is run. Members include Professor Alan Tomlinson, the author of a number of books on sports governance, including – with John Sugden – Badfellas: FIFA Family at War, which was revisited this year.

Professor Tomlinson slammed the “snooty elitists” who had once insisted that football was not a subject for examination. “There had been a lot of progress in the last 35 years,” said Professor Tomlinson. “The time for paradigm wars is over.”

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, who has a strong interest in sport, was scheduled to appear but had to withdraw at the last minute due to urgent parliamentary business, but the conference still included practioners and industry representatives.

The most emotional presentation was one on ‘Suicidal behaviour, associated antecedents and professional football’ by David Horrock from the University of Central Lancashire and Alice Kelk from UCFB.

The presentation focused on a case study of former chairman of the Professional Football Association Clark Carlisle. His presence in the audience as the presentation detailed his various suicide attempts made the presentation all the more compelling.

Football facilities, governance and supporter empowerment

The conference also included an update on proposals in Scotland to empower local supporters through the Community Empowerment Bill (CEB), which was proposed by the ruling Scottish Nationalist Party.

The CEB was not initially designed for football but Green Party representatives in the Scottish Parliament secured an amendment to develop a framework for greater supporter involvement that could lead to fans controlling their own club.

“Some of the press reported that this change gave Scottish fans the right to buy [their clubs] but that’s wrong. It doesn’t,” explained Stephen Morrow, a senior lecturer at Stirling University and chair of the Scottish Government Working Group on Supporter Involvement.

The conference concluded with a panel featuring Owen Gibson, the new head of sport at The Guardian, Shelley Alexander, the lead for women’s sport at the BBC, and Tony Asghar, a football agent and former police officer.

The Guardian has led coverage of the widening child abuse scandal in British sport. Questioned on the subsequent inquiry announced by the FA, Gibson said: “I hope they don’t do what they usually do and throw out one bad apple and hope everyone moves on.”

The panellists were critical of a number of areas of football governance with Alexander insisting that the FA’s inclusion advisory board was considered a “waste of space” by some members of the FA Counsil, while Asghar slammed the state of sporting facilities.

Gibson agreed, saying: “There is £8.3 billion going into the game every three years and its insane that we should still be having problems with waterlogged pitches. The FA have less money to play with [than the EPL], but if it’s going to have a central role in this country then people have to be able to play.”

Gibson praised the Parklife Football Hubs Programme being rolled out by Sport England, the Premier League and the FA but said that instead of the £30 million being spent on this initiative that builds local, accessible facilities, to resolve the critical problem of playing facilities in England would cost closer to “half a billion pounds.”

The Football Collective raised many questions and did not provide all the answers but will return with another conference and has a book publication in the pipeline.

(Updated 5 December 2016)

More information


Read more about The Football Collective

Read more about Dr Max Mauro's book: 'The Balotelli Generation'