A Common Goal

Syrian refugees are learning English through soccer, thanks to a unique initiative in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

On a Tuesday afternoon in the west of Ireland, a Syrian teenager juggles a football.

He is wearing a Bayern Munich jersey, with the name of Dutch winger Arjen Robben on the back.

However, ask Abdul who his favourite player is, and he does not hesitate to select the Egyptian who has lit up the English Premiership this season.

"It's my dream to meet Mohamed Salah," he says with a wide smile.

Football's worldwide appeal is clear. In Ballaghaderreen, they are learning it is a language everyone can speak.

English Class

English language tutorials for Syrian refugees take place every Tuesday afternoon in the clubhouse of Ballaghaderreen FC. The content of each class is focused around football.


Basil Akkash from Aleppo arrived in Ireland last year. He is one of 194 Syrians currently living in the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre (EROC) in Ballaghaderreen. "These classes are really good. Today we have been learning words like shoot, pass, attack and defence. These are words I can use when I play with Irish people," he says.

First Half

Although the English class kicks off in the clubhouse, it will be followed by a football coaching session in the local community park.


17-year-old Juan Sido fled Aleppo in 2013. He lived in Turkey for four years and then Greece, where his parents remain. He arrived in Ireland earlier this year, under the EU Relocation Programme. "This class and the game that follows it are so important for us. Without it, we are stuck in the EROC every afternoon with nothing to do," he says.

Second Half

Words and phrases the refugees have been taught in the classroom are incorporated into various football drills led by FAI coaches.

Fitting In

"These people arrive here with absolutely nothing but the clothes on their back. It's hard for them to adapt to a new country. So for us to offer them a small thing - just a game of ball - makes a big difference. And if they are using the words they learn in the classroom on the pitch, we hope that they find it easier to integrate."

- Adrian Carberry, FAI Development Officer, Roscommon County Council


"It's really good learning English and using the words we learn. That's important. If I go to the hospital, a restaurant, or even if I go to play somewhere else, I need to be able to speak or explain what I want. That's why learning English is my number one priority."

- Abdul Rasheed, Refugee

Team Players

"We are doing whatever we can do to help them settle in and integrate. Football helps in a lot of ways because it doesn't matter what nationality you are or what language you have. If you know how to kick a ball you can mix and get involved, which will help no matter what community they end up living in."

- Maureen Higgins, English Tutor