WALLY MEETS: As part of the EFL’s Action Week, Ben Amos has been involved with Wigan’s efforts in holding training sessions for people who have fled Afghanistan
Image: Phil Oldham/Shutterstock)
They were given an hour to pack a bag and scramble to the airport before the Taliban shut the last escape route out of Kabul.
Many of them had worked for the British military as translators, and they had no idea where they were going when they joined the airlift. In the chaos to escape Afghanistan’s return to the dark ages, some were separated from their families as thousands picketed the runway, desperate for a place on the last flights out of purgatory.
Their destination turned out to be Wigan Pier. As a cultural shift, it is hard to imagine a wider gulf than the diverse charms of the DW Stadium and the Khyber Pass. But every week, around 80 Afghan refugees look forward to a glimpse of respite – a training session at League One leaders Wigan Athletic’s academy – after fleeing the Taliban’s austere regime.
In the EFL’s first designated Action Week, a showcase for all 72 clubs’ community projects, few initiatives tug at the heartstrings more than the Latics’ Wednesday afternoon treat for exiled allies who may never be able to return home. Goalkeeper Ben Amos, closing in on the first promotion of a career spanning 284 games and 12 clubs, could scarcely believe the uplifting effect of football on the town’s fugitive guests as he helped out at this week’s session.
“I know it’s a cliché, but no matter what is going on in the world, there’s nothing like football to bring people together,” he said. “Not all of them speak great English yet – they have only been in the country a few months – but you can’t put a price on the smiles.
“Happiness is an international language, isn’t it? What they have been through is shocking, so to see them take so much enjoyment from kicking a ball around is very gratifying.
“It’s not easy for them to come 5,000 miles to a different country and settle straight away when they have to set up bank accounts and most of them arrived without a penny to their names. I’m told the council have been putting them up in hotels, and when they were asked if there was an activity they would like to help them integrate into the local community, the overwhelming No.1 choice was football. Many of them have been to some of our games as well. I’m just glad they have been watching a team that’s doing well.”
Amos, who turns 32 this weekend, began his career at Manchester United, making seven first-team appearances after Sir Alex Ferguson handed him his debut as an 18-year-old. But the pathway to a regular place in the starting XI was invariably blocked by the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Ben Foster and David De Gea, and he said: “I look back with fond memories of my time at United, but I don’t live in the past.
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“I’ve found out there is a big world beyond Old Trafford, and this season we have a chance to achieve something special at Wigan. Football can be a tough and ruthless business, and we’ve done nothing yet, so let’s give it one big, final push and not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got seven games left, starting at Lincoln on Saturday, and promotion is in our hands.
“After everything the club has been through in recent times, I think a lot of the fans are just grateful that Wigan Athletic still exists. That helps to keep success and disappointment in perspective.”