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Asylum seekers revive football team in small French village

Village of Argy in France   -  
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The football club in the little town of Argy in eastern central France was on the verge of shutting down when it was lucky enough to have a group of asylum seekers join the team.

With just 610 residents, the local team was down to just six players at the end of winter last year, and it looked like the 102-year-old club would have to be mothballed.

But then one of the players suggested bringing over a few of his friends, most of whom were living in an asylum seekers' reception centre in Buzançais, a little over six kilometres from the village and who were struggling to find a permanent place to play.

“They wanted to have a team and get better at football. We were a team without players and they were players who were looking for a team. So it worked right away,” said the club president, Jean-Marie Biaunier.

He said it was complicated in the beginning sorting out the administrative process of issuing licenses for them to play.

The club had to request authorisations from the federations of each country to sign players. US Argy was forced to start the season a week late, but a months later, it was in third place in its league.

Feeling part of the community

Telly is a welding and boiler making apprentice from Guinea Conakry. He said when they play football, they forget all their problems.

"When we first arrived, we did not have problems integrating, or communicating with the players. Many had left. But with those who are here, it was really nice. We got along well and now we communicate and we have fun. It's like a little family,” he said.

The new additions to the team are from countries including The Gambia, Mali, Salvador, and Haiti.

“It's a fine example of integration," said Mayor Bernadette Villemont, "Thanks to them, we have never seen so many spectators on a Sunday.”

In the beginning, language differences was a bit of a problem, especially when communicating on the field.

”They speak in all languages," said the captain Jérémy Logie. "During free kicks or when some players don't agree with each other, I don't always understand everything. But it doesn't matter.”

At the end of the day, he said, it is the football that brings them all together.

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