Oxford Phoenix

The Incredible Impact of Oxford Phoenix

Established as a team to provide playing opportunities to refugees settling in Oxfordshire, Oxford Phoenix continues to create a positive impact.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the difficulty of being forced to move away from a place you call home, for reasons completely out of your control that could impact the safety of you and your family.

However, that’s the reality for many being forced to leave their native countries due to violence through conflict and war. In Oxfordshire, our county has provided a new home for many that have fled, and one of many projects has helped to ensure that transition is as easy as possible is Oxford Phoenix.

Oxford Phoenix is a football team created by Refugee Resource and Asylum Welcome, supported by Oxford United in the Community who provide delivery. One person at the heart of the team is Oxfordshire FA’s Inclusion Football Officer, Youcef El Barhdadi, who has witnessed first-hand the way in which football has brought refugees together and helped individuals flourish.

“I’d inherited the project from the man who created it, Rod Diaz,” explained Youcef.

“I’d never done anything like that before, but through teaching, I’d always worked with refugees. I’ve now worked with the team for two-and-a-half years, and things have grown massively. When we started, it was just three boys, but that number rose to 20 and it’s gone on from there.

“The excellent Lucy Nichol, who worked with Refugee Resource, was instrumental in setting up contact with Oxford Brookes, who provided us with an outdoor pitch during the summer months. From there, we were able to organise matches across the county and we won our first match 6-1.”

Since then, Oxford Phoenix have played games against other teams providing playing opportunities for refugees, including one from Peterborough. 

“We do have challenges, and would love to speak to anyone that can provide us with support – either logistical or financial,” admitted Youcef.

“The cost of travel is one, as are the costs of pitch hire. We have high aspirations, not only through increasing the number of boys playing, but also opening up an opportunity for girls to play.”

Given the positive impact that Oxford Phoenix has had on its male players, it’s easy to understand why there’s an eagerness to expand to creating a female team.

“I’ve seen the quietest, shyest boys, come out of their shells and become the loudest and most demanding on the pitch, which I love to see,” Youcef revealed.

“I’ve used the captaincy as a tool as well, where I’ve given it to people for different games so I can see more from them in terms of their leadership – and that’s worked really well.

“I was recently walking down the street in Oxford and bumped into a couple of the players, and it’s great to see their reaction. They’re always happy to see me,” said Youcef. “One of them is working full time, which is fantastic, while the other one is always in the gym, so you can see how his confidence has grown massively too. It’s difficult to pinpoint one success story, because there are so many. 

“If this project stopped, it would have an impact on many of the boys,” continued Youcef. “There are some players that no longer need the team, simply because we’ve provided the therapy they needed through football. So many of our players have come from really difficult situations in coming to this country.

“It’s been amazing to see how this community of Oxford Phoenix has enabled its members to grow into the wider community of Oxford as a whole.”

To find out more about Oxford Phoenix, offer support, or find out more about the work Oxfordshire FA is doing in connecting with refugees in the county, please contact Youcef El Barhdadi via Support@OxfordshireFA.com 

You can keep up-to-date with Oxford Phoenix by following the team on Instagram - @OxfordPhoenixFC