Game helps migrants master Kiwi life
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.’’
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.