Football Unites initially shied away from entering teams in organised leagues, wary of the amount of administration required. Then in the summer of 2000, three teenage Asian footballers, Kamran Khan, Asim Shazad and Idris Ahmed, strolled into the Football Unites office and announced they wanted to form a team and enter an affiliated eleven-a-side Sunday league.
Football Unites staff sat down with the three friends and went through what it would entail. The list was long, daunting even, but the boys’ enthusiasm won the day and their team, Sharrow United, applied to join the Sheffield Regional Alliance Sunday League, Division Two for the 2000-1 season.
Sharrow soon experienced an open hostility towards Asian players by some opposing sides. Playing mainly against pub teams in the lower divisions, the speed, skill and athleticism of the young Sharrow players meant that opponents resorted to kicking, tripping and punching in a desperate attempt to compete. When the Sharrow players responded, racial abuse often followed – rarely heard by the referee – from both players and spectators.
Scuffles occasionally resulted, and on three occasions referees abandoned games as they lost control. It was as if the Sharrow players’ refusal to take the violence and intimidation lying down, preferring instead to fight back, was both unexpected and resented. Such experiences led inevitably to disciplinary charges and members and officials of the team were frequent visitors to the County FA offices.
But they survived, the quality of the football played overcoming the unpleasantness, and providing genuine satisfaction that the racists had been beaten ï¿½ at least at football. When the players collected their runners-up medals at the leagueï¿½s Presentation Night in May 2001 it was clear from the applause and comments that respect had been won.
The leading goalscorer in the first season was an African asylum-seeker, and players in similar circumstances soon followed ï¿½ from Togo, Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq and Morocco along with a sprinkling of white players ï¿½ the team reflecting the changes in the demographic make-up of the local area.
Four summers and two promotions later, and after lifting the league cup in 2004, Sharrow successfully applied to join the top local league, the Meadowhall Sunday League.
In the meantime Football Unites has helped a Bengali side, Sharrow Athletic, and the African Dream Team enjoy their first seasons in the Regional Alliance League.
A new team, Porter United FC, sponsored by Positive Futures, has entered the Hallamshire Sunday Nomads League, with a younger Positive Futures team planned for the Under 18 league in season 2006-7. There are also a number of teams emerging from the All Nations initiative who are looking to join mainstream 11-a-side leagues.