With the location set during the week, a group of mainly young Afghan Muslim girls converge to a soccer pitch in Melbourne’s south-east. Ace Football Club do not have a regular ground to play on, what they do have is 30 young girls around the Dandenong and Hampton Park area eager to come together to play alongside their friends.
Ace FC was created in May 2015 for young Afghan Muslim girls interested in playing soccer who were not attracted to existing local clubs and their high registration fees. Ace FC is a comfortable and familiar place for newly arrived Afghan parents to send their children. Having started with just seven Afghan girls, the club has grown to include a multicultural mix of 30, after many of the young girls invited their Afghan and non-Afghan friends to join in.
The young people responsible for giving the parents peace of mind are coach Ali Reza Hadari, assistant coaches Shukrullah Hazara, Omid Hadari and president Yusra Sahingoz.
23-year-old coach Hadari had a dream of creating a space for young girls to play soccer freely, get fit and connect with the community. “It's a place for girls to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. Training these girls and watching them grow has been a really rewarding experience,” shared Hadari.
Sahingoz is a community-minded young woman who finds time to manage the team between running tae-kwon-do classes and studying to become a police officer. “At training, soccer isn't the only thing the coaches teach the girls. They teach the girls to have high expectations of themselves and their team mates, while striving to achieve the highest level of success,” she said.
The Club is welcoming to people who have arrived in Australia as refugees. Of the approximately 200,000 people who arrive in the country each year, around 13,500 people are accepted as part of Australia’s refugee and humanitarian programme. Many of the Ace FC girls arrived in Australia with their parents as refugees —the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan rendering it too dangerous a place to raise a family.
The Club has some challenges going forward. As it is run by volunteers and does not receive funding from the players, it is difficult to register the players with a soccer governing body. “Because of a lack of funding or sponsorship, the Club is not able to expand,” said Sahingoz. Support from Sports Without Borders and Chobani Australia will assist with soccer equipment and playing gear. Furthermore, to enter a team into local competitions they require a permanent venue, which is hard to come by in established areas.
While the search is still on for a permanent home for Ace FC, its members will continue to play soccer, keep fit and create memories with new friends.
Special thanks to Chobani Australia and South East Community Links who are doing great work for refugee and migrant youth in Dandenong and surrounding areas.