Can Koa Bosco FC, a small, local team of African immigrants and refugees, change an Italian community’s mind about having foreigners come to stay?
2010 was a low point in Rosarno, in the Calabria region of Italy, and maybe for the whole province. Essentially, it turned into what politician called ‘the world’s only entirely white town’. The brutal murders of two African immigrants, shot by locals, resulting in all 1000 locally based immigrants being removed from the town, reportedly for their own safety, and their camp being demolished by bulldozers. The whole affair sparked 2 days and nights of violence in the town, causing 53 injuries and multiple hospitalisations.
Humble beginnings for Koa Bosco
Local priest, Roberto Meduri, knew it was a problem which wouldn’t just go away, so he searched for a way to integrate the arriving immigrants with the local people in a positive way. Nothing is more important in Italy than football. It’s a country with daily newspapers dedicated to the game, whole channels and endless conversation. So Meduri thought starting a football team might be the answer. He wanted a way to integrate foreigners into the community in a way that they’d be able to contribute to the area and take some pride in what they were doing. It would, he thought, also help with local perception of the immigrants, and maybe help people see them as more than just people looking for a handout.
In 2013, he founded a team called Koa Bosco FC. Koa stands for Knights of the altar, it being a church sponsored team after all. The team brings together immigrants and refugees from as far away as Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Sudan, Togo and the Ivory Coast. The players have often risked life and limb making their way from desperate situations at home to arrive in Italy. The UN estimate about 3,500 people made the same trip in 2014, with even more as the war in Syria worsens. 1,850 were estimated to have died on the journey in 2014. They were under no illusions about how difficult it would be once they arrived. And it was.
Promotion and Hope.
The players live on a hodge-podge settlement fashioned largely from shipping containers. Most work on local farms, picking fruit and taking whatever manual work they can get, but they’re grateful for it. Despite all this, the club had gone from strength to strength since its inception. With minimal funding and a skeletal coaching and playing staff, the side was promoted from the bottom tier of the Italian football pyramid last season. They now play in the Seconda Categoria, the 8th level of the Italian league, only 7 below the likes of Juventus and Inter. There are 182 local divisions in the category, and promotion isn’t easy. But Koa Bosco believe.
The firm tradition of talented players rising from humble beginnings in Africa is now something very familiar in European football leagues. George Weah, Nwankwo Kanu, Sunday Oliseh, Collins John, Solomon Kalou. It’s not impossible that the side could go on to develop some younger African players, or even attract some, who may have landed in the district, and give them a little something to cling to.
Koa Bosco defeated Aterogenese in a play-off in Terza Categoria Group G to gain promotion. To call it a hard fought victory would be a gross understatement.
“The players’ joy is contagious. Fairytales exist.” says the coach, Domenico Mammoliti.
A dream come true.
In fact, it was Juventus who were first to congratulate the side. Director and playing hero, Pavel Nedved was caught up in following the story of the little team and invited the whole Koa Bosco squad to visit their J-Museum. An event which ended in a photocall where players swapped jerseys as a mark of respect. It was a rare enough thing for the players. The fact is, they’ve received a great deal of abuse since starting on the bottom rung. They’ve found referees seem to favour the opposition an unusually large portion of the time.
“We only think about winning. But our problem is the referees here in Bosco, all the decisions go against us. So out there on the pitch, it is tough” – Ali Trauri, Player
Confronting racism is a regular challenge for the side. Last March, a match had to be abandoned because the racist abuse had led to a fight breaking out on the pitch and rain of stones being thrown at the players from the crowd. The sides never got to finish and after adjudication by the Italian football league, both sides were punished. The side rarely receive financial donations or sponsorship, but not everyone is against them. Local fans have collected warm blankets and clothing for the team from their area. The attitude of the side since promotion has remained grounded though.
“These guys have achieved a great victory, but it’s clear that for them everyday life goes on.”
Squad Images: Adriana Sapone / AP
Squad image with Nedved courtesy: Juventus fc
Dressing room & playing images: Maisfutebol