Game helps mi­grants master Kiwi life

The Leader (Nelson) - - COMMUNITY COOKBOOK - TIM O'CON­NELL

Ever wished your foot­ball team could com­bine Colom­bian flair, Ja­panese Sushi­taka pass­ing and Chilean phys­i­cal­ity?

One team has man­aged to do just that by head­ing home a combination of skill and ca­ma­raderie as they set­tle into the New Zealand way of life.

Nel­son-based foot­ballers Con­stantin Graf and Neil Ben­son are lead­ing a di­verse and tal­ented team of foot­ball play­ers, pri­mar­ily from mi­grant and refugee back­grounds.

The ge­o­graph­i­cal make-up of the team would ex­cite most man­agers – Ja­pan, Nor­way, Chile, Colom­bia and Myan­mar are rep­re­sented in the ros­ter – even a cou­ple of to­ken English and French play­ers are on board.

‘‘I think last sea­son we had seven Saudis on the team and man, they can play,’’ Ben­son said.

The team is de­vel­op­ing a strong rep­u­ta­tion within Nel­son foot­ball cir­cles, not only for their ath­letic prow­ess but also their in­tense ca­ma­raderie.

Eight weeks into the sea­son, the Di­vi­sion Three team re­mained un­beaten, with only a 2-2 draw last Satur­day curb­ing their win­ning streak.

Ben­son, an IT lec­turer at Nel­son Marl­bor­ough In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, said the team was estab­lished two sea­sons ago to cre­ate a safe place for the stu­dents and mi­grants to learn about NZ foot­ball cul­ture, con- nect with oth­ers, re­duce cultural bar­ri­ers and set­tle into life in Nel­son.

‘‘You get a lot of in­ter­na­tion­als com­ing here but you never see them in the lo­cal leagues, so you have these guys with un­tapped po­ten­tial.’’

‘‘Con­stantin has a pas­sion for more than just play­ing foot­ball - he’s quite a tal­ented player, a Ger­man lad who wants to make a dif­fer­ence.’’

With just a cou­ple of kickarounds un­der their belt, Ben­son en­tered the team in a seven-a-side pre-sea­son tourna- ment in Jan­uary.

They lost the first game but quickly came good in the re­main­ing matches to win the tour­na­ment.

‘‘At the same time there was a top level game go­ing on - they said ‘Neil, do you have any have any of these boys that can play?’ and I gave them a cou­ple of play­ers and one of them scored al­most in­stantly and ev­ery­one was cheer­ing them on and it was neat see­ing the Colom­bian boys cheer­ing on the Ja­panese and ex­chang­ing high fives - and it’s sort of gone from there.

’’I drove a van to our game in Rich­mond and hav­ing all these guys they were all singing – it’s been quite spe­cial - I’ve been a part of a few teams but this is some­thing else.’’

Ben­son said the mix of cul­tures had shaped the teams win­ning play­ing style. ‘‘We’ve had one guy Hiro who we’ve lent to other teams and my phone starts go­ing off ‘who the eff is this guy, can we keep him?’’’

‘‘The Ja­panese guys are 1-2 touch stuff, then you have the Colom­bians who like to do a bit more and show a bit of flair in their play and then you have the ag­gres­sive Chileans - you put them in the right space and they re­ally punch about above their weight.’’

With the sup­port of FC Nel­son and Red Cross, Graf, Ben­son and coach Pa­trick Do­herty hoped to keep the team alive next sea­son and be­yond.

‘‘It’s more about reg­u­lar get­to­geth­ers to bring new peo­ple in - some guys might not play, they might just come and train - it’s just about meet­ing peo­ple and mak­ing a wee com­mu­nity for them.’’

SUP­PLIED

Con­sist­ing mostly of over­seas stu­dents and former refugees, the Nel­son FC NMIT foot­ball team has brought a world of pain to their op­po­nents this sea­son.

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