« All our players, whatever their origin, are for us Milanese »: in Italy, a football team of migrants committed against racism

The St Ambroeus football team in Milan brings together refugees, asylum seekers and young people from the neighborhood. A way to alleviate their loneliness, but also to fight against racism in the country.

Abdoulaye was already playing soccer in Dakar, Senegal. When he arrived in Milan a year and a half ago, he left everything. « At the beginning, it was very difficult, he says. I didn’t know anyone my age and I didn’t speak Italian. » And then he hears about the St Ambroeus football club. Some time later, the young man of 21 years joined the team as a defender, and made friends there « Gambians, Malians, Burkinabé … there are many Africans, like me! ». Within the group, the Senegalese exile also rub shoulders with young people from the neighborhood.

« The exchange of culture, habits and different ideas is essential, affirms Daniele Raduazzo, the club’s sporting director. That is why we believe that the integration of the Milanese players in the group is very important too. »

All meet up every Wednesday and Friday during training, and put on the red and white outfit of the Milanese team on Sunday, for the matches. « Fortunately, the market where I work is closed that day. It allows me to participate in the championship all year round, » says Abdoulaye.

Part of the St Ambroeus team.  Credit: Screenshot / Instagram
Part of the St Ambroeus team. Credit: Screenshot / Instagram

Founded in 2016, St Ambroeus is the first football team made up of refugees and migrants from outside the European Union to be affiliated with the Italian Football Federation in northern Italy. For its leaders, the objective is simple: to offer its players a chance to make friends – from the neighborhood and elsewhere – in this country they know little about. The club also provides Italian lessons, in order to facilitate their job search in particular. Lessons, in addition to those provided by other associations, which today allow Abdoulaye to hold a conversation in Italian. « Now I even confuse with French, » he admits, laughing.

St Ambroeus also organizes events to « create networks of solidarity » and « support each other, leaving no one behind in difficult times ». Last July, for example, its leaders organized a large Senegalese dinner, the profits of which were donated to « one of our dear friends in difficulty », writes the club on its Facebook page. Through its action, St Ambroeus wishes to embody « a point of reference for new Milanese who come from another country and who seek to integrate into the social fabric of the city ».

Second-class citizens

In the country, undocumented migrants – around 600,000 in 2020 according to government estimates – are often considered second-class citizens. « In Italy, these exiles are unlikely to obtain documents quickly because of the very strict laws on reception and international protection, which makes access to legal work difficult, » explains Daniele Raduazzo. at the same time, having a job makes it easier for you to obtain papers, it is an infernal circle « .

It is also « very complicated to access courses which allow you to learn the Italian language », and « access to health care is much more limited than for a person who was born and raised in Italy ».

Contrary to the anti-immigration rhetoric advocated by some Italian politicians, the Milan football club does not hide its commitment to migrants and refugees. This summer, a St Ambroeus banner floated aboard the NGO ResQ ship, which conducts rescues in the central Mediterranean.

A few days ago, he also showed his support for the former mayor of Riace, sentenced to 13 years in prison for inciting illegal immigration. « In the rest of the world, there is talk of the » Riace Model « and the work of Mimmo Lucano is shown as an example. In Italy, he is put in prison. We express our solidarity with Mimmo Lucano ».

« It’s like I’m ashamed to be black »

For the leaders of St Ambroeus, football is part of « means of social integration, exchange and knowledge » which can change the perception of the population vis-à-vis migrants. It is also a « weapon against racism », assures Daniele Raduazzo. « All our players, whatever their origin, if they feel Milanese, for us they are Milanese. With our club we try to build a team disconnected from prejudices of origin, belief, or gender ».

In Italy, racist incidents and prejudice against migrants are tough. In football, they are almost legion, including in the best teams in the country. The majority of the victims are African players, but also black Italian players. Latest act to date: the cries and insults uttered against the Franco-Senegalese defender of Naples, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Nigerian and Cameroonian players Victor Osimhen and Franck Zambo Anguissa, during a match against La Forientina on Sunday October 3 .

Sometimes the consequences are dramatic. Last June, former AC Milan hopeful Seid Visin, tired of the daily racism he faced, committed suicide at the age of 20. Born in Ethiopia, the young man was adopted at the age of seven by an Italian family. « Wherever I go, wherever I am, I feel the weight of the skeptical, biased, disgusted and frightened looks of people, » he wrote in a letter to explain his gesture. « I had been able to find a job [de serveur] that I had to leave because too many people, especially the older ones, refused to let me serve them […] It’s like I’m ashamed to be black.

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Abdoulaye was also a victim of racism once. « A lady insulted me in the street. It doesn’t matter. Other than that, I never had a problem. » The young man prefers to forget, and concentrate on the months to come. « This year, we have a great team. I’m sure we will win the championship. » Last Sunday, St Ambroeus crushed the opposing team of Real San Donato 6 goals to 1.

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