In the same 10-day period that saw the outburst by Ron Atkinson that cost him his broadcasting career, a more positive side to football was on display at the launch of a new video and education pack, A Safe Place, produced by the anti-discrimination charity Show Racism The Red Card: "It is aimed at key stage 3 and 4 students and will be an ideal tool for citizenship lessons," explains the charity's co-ordinator Ged Gabby, stressing the importance of dispelling myths about asylum seekers. His views were endorsed by the Refugee Council's Maeve Sherlock, who pointed to the findings of a recent Mori poll that suggested many people believe the UK takes in up to 30 per cent of the world's refugees. "In fact, the figure is closer to 2 per cent," she explained. "More than seven in 10 refugees end up in developing countries."
It is just this kind of misinformation that the pack has been designed to dispel, using a series of quizzes and briefing notes. But it is the video, sponsored by several charities and trade unions, that is likely to pack the biggest punch. It features a glittering array of football celebrities giving their perspective on the need to be more thoughtful in the face of anti-refugee journalism or statements by opportunist politicians.
It begins in a deceptively ordinary way, with Gary Lineker giving a series of definitions. But before things become too comfortable we are confronted with shocking still images of human suffering accompanied by a soundtrack of screams, gunfire and explosions. The images are captioned with bold questions - What if this was your brother? What if this was your mother? What if this was your home? This leads to a series of case studies involving young asylum seekers, explaining what drove them to abandon their countries. We see Ahmed discussing the shooting of his father; Verona describing the burning of her home and killing of her grandfather in Kosovo and 14-year-old Shura trying to describe the pleasure of being in a country where she finally feels safe.
The film also focuses on the fortunes of Tanzanian Said Massoud, who arrived at Heathrow as a juvenile and has been living in a hostel sponsored by the Refugee Council in Hillingdon, west London. We see him moving out on his 18th birthday and trying to settle into new sheltered accommodation.
"Yes, you see me moving into a flat and that may seem something good to people watching," he explained at the video launch. "But the film shows me hearing about all the rules in my new flat - no visitors." It also features him against a stark white wall explaining how much he has to bottle up: "I have no one to speak to. It's like being on Mars."
"This is a brilliant resource," says Joan Foulds, a former teacher and manager of Race Equality and Diversity services in Cambridgeshire. "It is virtually impossible to get young asylum seekers into school to speak to students, but here is something that really gives access to their voices and experiences."
There is significant talent on show in A Safe Place, ranging from Thierry Henry and Shaka Hislop, and ex-refugee Lomana Lua-Lua of Newcastle United explaining the hazards of life in his original home, the Democratic Republic of Congo. In one telling interview, Manchester City goalkeeper David James spells out how footballers are well placed to know what it is to be on the end of pernicious and distorted press coverage.
* A Safe Place is available for pound;10 from Show Racism The Red Card PO, Box 141, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, N26 3YH
Tel: 0191 291 0160
Amnesty International: www.amnesty.org.uk The Refugee Council: www.refugeecouncil.org.uk Asylum Aid: www.asylumaid.org.ukROAPinfo%20for%20refugees.htm
Left: Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry features in A Safe Place