All here or nowhere

Holbeck Moor FC become UK’s first women’s football Club of Sanctuary

Written by: Rob Conlon
Photographs by: Eve Murphy
Two photos of the Holbeck Moor Women's team being presented with their Club of Sanctuary award. Coach Claire Blue is wearing their white home shirt, sponsored by The Square Ball

On the same weekend Leeds United Women were celebrating their first trophy for thirteen years, Holbeck Moor Women were also toasting their own historic success. Last month, they became the first women’s team in the UK to become a Football Club of Sanctuary, an award run by the City of Sanctuary Movement, a charity supporting groups that encourage inclusivity, solidarity, and compassion for people from a forced displacement background.

Holbeck Moor FC was founded two years ago, with support from local theatre company Slung Low. Run by volunteers, the club provides free access to the physical and mental benefits of playing football, in an area where, until its formation, there was no adults sports team, despite being a stone’s throw away from Elland Road. The club is welcoming to players of all abilities and backgrounds, providing free childcare to remove barriers for young mothers like captain Abbi McLaren, and a friendly environment for people like Belinda Madigela to make friends in a new home.

“There’s a criteria that you have to fill out: what you do to welcome refugees and asylum seekers, what you have done to learn more, and what you do to share your experience with others. Those are the three principles of it,” says team coach and all round legend Claire ‘Blue’ Graham.

“It was really nice to read because it made me think that the people who have led that for Holbeck Moor were the people who were refugees or asylum seekers themselves. It was really nice to look at what we’ve done.

“We want to be welcoming to everyone, and we also recognise the additional barriers that people who are seeking asylum can face in taking part in sport. Add on the barriers that women face, the additional barriers mums face, and that means football can feel like quite an exclusive pursuit for many people.

“We want to spread the word about City of Sanctuary to other football teams and encourage them to work towards the award. We know there are lots of grassroots football clubs out there doing great work, so we would certainly encourage people to look at how to apply, and think about how they can be more inclusive. We have learnt so much from the process.”

It has been a busy time for Holbeck Moor FC, who were also nominated for Participation Club of the Year at the Leeds Sports Awards. Their latest success led to an invitation to appear on BBC Radio Leeds, and they were presented with the Football Club of Sanctuary award at the Celebration of International Culture hosted by Slung Low.

“We are just delighted with this,” says player and club ambassador Wan Abdullah. “We have worked hard to make the club welcoming to all women, especially those in the asylum system, to find out that we are the first ever women’s team to accomplish this award makes it extra special. And we hope it will inspire others.

“We want to move away from all the negative health and crime statistics levelled at Holbeck and focus on the positives. We have loads of different community languages spoken in the club, a huge mixture of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, abilities and ages. Working towards this award has helped us reflect on how we can keep learning and improving as a team and a club.”

Anybody interested in joining Holbeck Moor FC can email [email protected] or call 07305 155698. We can also heartily recommend pre-game drinks, and post-game drinks, at The Holbeck, the oldest social club in Britain.

More info:
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 07305 155698


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