Saturday, April 21, 2007

Australians may attract scouts through Arsenal

Remzi Dermele and Salah Musa are two young immigrant residents of the inner districts of Australia's second largest city, Melbourne, who have been selected in a 30-strong Australian contingent travelling to the 17th annual Arsenal International Soccer Festival at the Royal Holloway University in Surrey, England, from 28 July to 5 August. According to Larry Schwartz of The Age, the event "will attract talent scouts from Britain and elsewhere in Europe."

Remzi and Salah are among almost 600 refugees from the horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia) who now live in Carlton's public housing. This is a community in which a study by a Monash University researcher found family life had been disrupted in war and refugee camps. Women had often come to Australia without their husbands, who had died, were lost in Africa or otherwise separated from their families. Many of the youngsters' education has been disrupted in their troubled countries. But there is an obvious camaraderie and a shared passion for the "world game".

Here soccer is everything, says Mia Bromley. She is a program director with the YMCA's Carlton Parkville Youth Services, which runs a drop-in centre at the flats and soccer teams for younger players. The service is helping Remzi and Salah raise the almost $7000 they will each need for air fares, accommodation and other costs on their trip. Both teenagers are also selling raffle tickets to help raise the money.

"We don't want to create a false hope," says organiser Jim Tsolakis, managing director of the new Arsenal Soccer Schools Australia which was set up late last year and is one of 14 such schools around the world, including in Egypt, Portugal, Hong Kong and Malaysia. They are visited by Arsenal coaches and use training programs devised and monitored by the club.

Mr Tsolakis hopes that some of the Australians who play at the Arsenal event will be invited to train with the club's youth teams. "Who knows? It certainly will help them with that opportunity but also with their opportunities back home as the A-League gets better and, if we can develop the players, there's Asia," he says. "There's a huge market."

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