On 23 June, a charity football match, sponsored by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), took place between the World Refugee Internally Displaced Persons (WRIDPs) XI and the Arsenal Legends at Barnet FC’s Underhill Stadium, attended by a crowd of 3,600.
Mo Farah, the Olympic double gold medal-winning British athlete, managed the Arsenal Legends, and Fabrice Muamba, the former Bolton Wanderers footballer, managed the World Refugee IDP XI. The match attracted considerable media interest.
The match raised much-needed funds for The Refugee Council, in addition to providing assistance to some of the approximately 875,000 refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Azerbaijan, whose lives were disrupted by the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The cause was close to the heart of Mo, originally from Somalia, and Fabrice, who comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, both of whom have built new lives in the UK. TEAS sponsored the event to commemorate UN World Refugee Day, which fell on 20 June.
The Arsenal Legends team included former England and Arsenal captain Tony Adams, Ian Wright, Paul Davis, Ray Parlour, Perry Groves and Michael Thomas. Syed Kemal MEP also demonstrated his footballing skills in the World Refugee IDP XI, and Cabinet Minister Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, presented the trophies at the end.
The game was very competitive, with both teams demonstrating huge passion for the match, which ended in a 1–1 draw. There was some excellent creative tactical work in the midfield from the WRIDPs XI, with Azerbaijani IDP Vurghun Hasanzade taking his chance and scoring towards the end of the first half. Each time England and Arsenal legend Tony Adams appeared, an ecstatic crowd demonstrated their appreciation, only topped by the applause for Mo Farah himself, when he appeared in an Arsenal strip. Arsenal adopted a 4–4–2 formation throughout, a time-honoured approach that paid dividends, particularly with the equalising goal from Ömer Riza.
Arsenal nemesis Mickey Thomas also appeared for the WRIDPs XI, who was a sprightly thorn in the side of the Arsenal midfield. The match also featured some inspired goalkeeping on both sides, providing prime entertainment for the crowd.
Lionel Zetter, Director, TEAS said: “There are many more IDPs than refugees worldwide, and we wanted to use this match to highlight that point, as well as for raising money for IDPs and refugees around the world.”
TEAS made the match sponsorship decision to highlight the ongoing plight of refugees around the world. Azerbaijan has the one of the highest IDP populations per capita in the world, in addition to refugees, due to the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict. This raged from 1988–94, costing the lives of around 30,000 people on both sides, and resulted in the occupation of around 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory. A ceasefire was declared in 1994. Despite four UN Security Council resolutions being passed, demanding the removal of the occupying forces, Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding territories remain under Armenian occupation, causing untold human misery.