Moubark Abdallah: From Sudan to Sweden by Playing for a Country That Doesn’t Exist

by Dom Smith – PPE student at the University of York

OCTOBER 28, 2020
IMG_4590.jpg

I was born in Darfur, Sudan. I was 11 years old when me and my family and friends started running away from my village. I lost my parents and brother, so I was just with my friends. It was a long journey — no food, no drink, no anything; just asking people for their food.

 

“After 26 days, we reached Chad. Me and my family [arrived in] one of the biggest refugee camps in Eastern Chad, [on the] Sudan border. I’ve spent all my life there; I grew up there from 2003 to 2012. We don’t have good education; we don’t have anything. Instead, we play football with friends. Normally, we don’t have a football, so we make it ourselves by hand with socks… we put rubbish in, tie it, and play.”

    Moubark Abdallah who tells this story, tells it from the comfort of a vibrantly wallpapered living room in Sweden. But he simply wouldn’t be there now if it hadn’t been for Gabriel Stauring, iACT, and the creation of Darfur United Football Club. It would represent Darfur, an unrecognised nation housing unrecognised people.

Moubark Abdallah who tells this story, tells it from the comfort of a vibrantly wallpapered living room in Sweden. But he simply wouldn’t be there now if it hadn’t been for Gabriel Stauring, iACT, and the creation of Darfur United Football Club. It would represent Darfur, an unrecognised nation housing unrecognised people.

 

“iACT is a non-profit organisation,” explains its founder, Gabriel Stauring. “It does work with refugee communities around the world, specifically focusing on communities that have been affected by mass atrocities — by genocide. We try and go to the difficult places forgotten by the humanitarian communities and by the world — place that aren’t getting attention.

 

“We first got involved because of what was happening in Darfur. 2004 is when I first started getting interested in what was happening there; it was being declared a genocide. I didn’t have the intention of starting an organisation, but I just felt the need for the regular person anywhere in the world to connect. Hundreds of thousands of people were being killed, million displaced. Those [numbers] are mind-boggling.

 

“So, I decided to go out to these refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border. It was just going to be one trip; I was going to continue a normal life after that. Here I am now after 31 trips, and now we have a humanitarian organisation.”

After months of trials and training sessions, Darfur United were off to the unofficial version of the World Cup.

But Abdallah recalls the 2012 VIVA World Cup in Iraq with regret. “It was actually so difficult. In Iraq, it was the first time in our lives that we had played on grass. It was so difficult for us to control the ball on grass. Everything looked so different. We didn’t have grass, we played without boots, without shoes. Some of the guys were thinking to take their boots off and play without them on. You aren’t allowed to do that.”

 

In 2014, Darfur United competed in the World Cup again. This time they were off to the large Swedish lakeside town of Östersund. If Iraq had offered a culture shock, a trip to Scandinavia would be something different entirely.

 

“When we finished the tournament, we just decided: ‘We don’t have to go back. We don’t have any education; we don’t have any food.’ We had to stay here. As refugees, it is better here,” admits Abdallah.

 

“We came to Sweden as 15 players. Two of them [went] back to Chad because their families were going to get a chance to move to Canada. They needed to go with their families. We 13 players decided to stay here in Sweden [having been granted asylum]. We still have contact together — ten of us are still in Östersund.

 

“Even in 2012, some players were saying, ‘We have to stay here in Iraq.’ But Iraq is not safe. When we came here, we saw everything was perfect was us. 

 

“I have been back [to Chad] twice. I collect footballs, football boots, some jerseys, and then package them into big bags and take them down to the refugees, because I know what the situation there is like. Every time, if somebody is going down to visit his family, we just package everything and send it back with him.”

 

The town’s biggest football club, Östersunds FK, is where current Brighton & Hove Albion manager Graham Potter first earned his reputation as an overachiever in the sport. Under his watchful eye, they won 2017/18 Europa League fixtures against the likes of Galatasaray, Hertha Berlin and Arsenal. Former players of the Allsvenskan outfit include Ravel Morrison, Ken Sema and Mo Barrow.

 

“I’m the kitman now at Östersunds FK. I’m always there for training, for games, all the time. I’m starting to learn a lot from the coaches. I have contact with academies in the camps, so I share information with them to help them out.”

 

And then from the passion of the Darfur United men’s team came an idea even more audacious than the first. The club would battle with human rights laws and stigma in a deeply conservative African country to allow the local women a chance to play in a Darfur United team of their own.

 

Abdallah helped against the backlash when the woman’s team was first formed. “Every human has the right to live and do their own things. It’s very good, it’s so important. Most people are understanding now. This has never happened before.”

 

With Darfur United now familiar names in both the men’s and women’s non-affiliate national team circles, Abdallah can look back on the last two decades and notice genuine change has happened in his country. His life has taken a totally surreal path, but it’s one that leaves him feeling safe and happy. And free.

This article is adapted from Dom Smith's voluntary piece for the Football Pink, which can be found here: https://footballpink.net/darfur-united-a-forever-project

Darfur United: A 'forever' project / Football Pink

Dom Smith is a Philosophy, Politics and Economics student at the University of York.  He is also the owner of the website EnglandFootball.org.  As a freelance sports journalist, he has written for the likes of 90min, The FA and COPA90, as well as featuring on BBC Radio and the ThreeLionsPodcast.