There’s a very special football team in the Altotevere and it’s called Real de Banjul. The players chose the name based on the fact that the majority come from Banjul, the capital of Gambia; and a nod to a fascination with Real Madrid.
by Marco Polchi / ph: Giorgia Fanelli
Who are they? Here’s where it becomes unique. Real de Banjul is the first Tiber Valley inter-cultural team, (aka. AfroValtiberina). It’s made up of young men aged between 18 and 24 from Senegal and Gambia, (except Mohammed who’s from Somalia), and who, since January 2014, have landed in Sicily with the help of the Italian government’s Mare Nostrum operation. They are “asylum seekers” and their journey has ended, at least for now, in Città di Castello and San Giustino. They’re helped out by Arcisolidarietà Ora d’Aria, who aid them in finding rented accomodation, and manage the distribution of resources from the Ministry of Interior;
“Thirty Euros a week for food, personal hygiene and household items, plus 2.50 Euros a day each for so-called pocket money”, explains Matteo Pellegrini, who with Michela Meazzini is one of the the project’s workers. “During the day the lads, 28 of them altogether, study Italian at the Dante School in Città di Castello, and then have supplementary lessons with Marta, a private teacher from Lama. We organize various activities, for the rest many of them play football.” Football – the team sport par excellence, with its ability to unite and integrate. I met the lads of Real de Banjul after a game against New Biturgia; (the amateur Sansepolcro team). They had tired but happy faces. They were a bit disappointed as the match ended 1-1 and the Black Scorpions, (their nickname – a bit like the indomitable Lions of Cameroon), had taken the lead and had been controlling the game. “It’s great for us here; we integrate with the locals” Alfuseini (known as Alfie) tells me.
Alfie, the goal scorer, arrived last July. “The people who support us are very prepared, we’re learning Italian well. I support Barcelona” he confesses ,”because they have the strongest players. Our dream? To study and to play football, although our team does need some help”. Until now, this has been done for nothing- second-hand shoes, jerseys, shorts and socks were donated by local companies or generous locals. It’s true Real de Banjul only came into being a few months ago and isn’t a member of any championship… “for now”, says coach and promoter Giacomo Barni, a great African football fan who threw himself wholeheartedly into the venture; “ours is a medium term project. We want to create a more stable project that could at least get the team into the third league, as we have the technical ability and quality players”. And who knows, maybe there’s a new champion in their midst.