Vivek ChaudharyMillwall offer Kosovo fans a refuge
Saturday March 11, 2000
They have witnessed the horrors of war and endured an arduous journey to Britain - only to find themselves being used as scapegoats by some politicians.
Come next week, however, a group of Kosovan refugees will at least have the warmth and support of Millwall football fans when they will travel to south-east London to watch the team in an ambitious attempt to make them feel more at home.
Police in south London are organising a coach for 25 Kosovans in the hope that exposure to the regulars of the New Den, Millwall's home ground, might help them integrate with the local community and improve their understanding of British culture.
Millwall fans are not exactly renowned for extending the hand of friendship to visitors, given that some of them are considered among the toughest in the country, but police and club officals remain optimistic that things might change.
The club has also offered coaching sessions and believes it can help the refugees integrate with their new surroundings. They are all living in a hostel near Millwall's ground and will attend the match against Blackpool on the club's offical anti-racist day.
Inspector Steve Burgess of Southwark police said: "A lot of the young men at the hostel are obsessed with football. We have already organised a number of matches with police to give them something to do.
"But taking them to the match is an opportunity to relieve some of the boredom and at the same time Millwall gain some potential fans."
Despite the notoriety of some of their supporters, Millwall are leading the way when it comes to anti-racist and community initiatives.
The club's spokesman Ken Chapman said: "Football is an international language. We want to celebrate in the terraces the cultural diversity that we also have in our teams.
"This is a chance to make the asylum seekers feel more accepted and at home in south London. And if they eventually settle here, hopefully they will become Millwall supporters."
Given the adverse publicity surrounding the presence of refugees in Britain at least those visiting the New Den next week will be able to empathise with the Millwall fans' anthem, which contains the line: "No one likes us, we don't care."