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It’s football, but not as we know it

How three community football enterprises from Denmark are demonstrating the power of ‘bottom-up’ initiatives

Getting females from multi-ethnic communities to play football

Nagin Gavan is an Afghan refugee whose parents moved to Denmark in 2002, so she was brought up in a very ‘Danish-style’ culture. Relatively quickly she discovered that she was a good footballer and she never considered that it was unusual in Denmark to see girls playing football wearing a hijab.

When she was 12 the family moved to Gellerup an area in Aarhus, ´the which is a multicultural community where many residents come from countries where females do not normally play football.

So, Nagin started a girls section at a local football club and gradually people got used to seeing this group of females playing football in hijabs she learned how to engage with both the girls and the parents. When she realised that some of the parents were concerned that their daughters were missing out on their school work due to football, she started study-classes alongside the football sessions.

Since then Nagin has won several sports and community awards and is now an ambassador for getting females from multicultural backgrounds to play football.

In between, she is also a second-year student at Aarhus University.

With an adventurous heart and an open mind, she is a true role model, fighting the barriers for girls and women to be active in sports.

Nagin is in doubt about the importance of her efforts. She sees herself as part of a greater integration process, which in the end is about developing a broader framework for young people in the area. At school, you should be able to talk to everyone, regardless of where they live.

“It’s all about having the same opportunities, regardless of whether you live in a high-rise block or a leafy suburb”, she says.
Growing up in a multi-cultural community such as Gellerup does present some challenges, says Nagin. That is why this is the feeling of community at the football sessions. It’s about giving young people some opportunities where they can meet around some activities.

For Nagin, young people from deprived areas must get the same opportunities and experiences as other young people.
”It is important that we give Muhammed and Aamirah something to talk with Svend and Maria about. It is about giving the young people something they can have in common” she points out.

Celebrating European Week of Sport



On Sunday the 20th September Nagin brought together 100 local girls and women to introduce and encourage them to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle in connection with the European Week of Sport.

Here is how local TV covered that occasion

She also brought together 100 young men from across the city to a football tournament the same day which made lots of people smile and created new friendships.

Playing a strong role in the wider sporting landscape in the city

There are certainly some very ambitious to develop a whole sporting, leisure and community area in connection with also building a new Superleague football stadium and the city’s leadership are now recording videos with interviews from local community leaders. And, yes, Nagin is one of those people who has been interviewed. The interview is in Danish, but we wanted to share this confirmation of her influence and status. I do wonder whether how many places there would a similar person representing females from a multi-cultural community area would be asked to make a similar contribution.

Nagin wins another prize

The PlanChildren FoundationGirl awards every October in connection with the International Girls’ Day in October, a person, organisation or company that makes extraordinary efforts in the field of gender equality by contributing to changes in attitudes and by taking action to promote gender equality.  The 2020 Award has just been awarded to R

Playing a strong role in the wider sporting landscape in the city

Football reminiscence is a relatively new concept which is taking off in the UK, Spain and Sweden where patient associations, football clubs and care homes have joined forces to offer conversation groups focusing football memories for older people with dementia.

Jonas Holsbaek, an occupational therapist based in Copenhagen, Denmark has just finished a pilot project called FC Mindelund (‘FC Memory Lane’).

The concept for this particular programme is to have a mix of group therapy and physical activity – incorporating three parts: the first where items such as football shirts, photos, balls or ticket are used as a basis for a conversation around football memories. The second element is football training including penalty kicks, passing, dribbling or something else depending on the level of dementia and fitness. The third element is a kind of post-match chat over a beer or soft drink where they talk about the training and what they want to do at the next session.

Fælledgården, the care home where the football reminiscence pilot happened

It is important to point out that initially, the plan was to run the sessions at one of the best community football clubs, BK Skjold, men it proved easier to run it a local care home with 193 flats and a special block with 30 dwellings for people with dementia.  This tallies with the experiences from other similar projects of the importance of running the activities close to people’s homes in an environment they know.

Experiences with this and similar projects are that participation leads to better mental health, quality of life and level of activity and that the social aspects and having conversations around something they all have in common, football, is stimulating the participants.

The plan is now to develop a package and, literally, a toolbox, with equipment, manual and checklists and then offer that to other partners across Denmark.  Also, Jonas Holsbaek is planning in the future to split the participants into two groups depending on the level of their dementia.

Denmark’s most charitable football club

Playing football against famous clubs and at highly unusual places, while raising £££

In 2007 a bunch of 30+ guys started an Old Boys football team in Hinnerup, a suburb of Denmark’s second city, Aarhus.  The idea was to set up a team which could enjoy playing football and socialising in best old-boys style while also being ambitious, serious and innovative and create some ‘never-seen-before’ initiatives.

They quickly went on their impressive journey and in their first year had one exhibition match where they played against the cast of a cult TV programme based around some football nerds and which attracted a gate of 2700.

Simon Schiølin and Anders Lunde, the two main people behind the project both had a background working in management positions at sportswear brand, Hummel, so they had a good network of Danish footballers who had been playing in the big clubs across Europe.

So in 2008, they started their journey playing matches against old-boys teams from major clubs, starting with the Spanish side, RCD Espanyol. 

This then lead the team to give 500 DKK (£60) to each player with the brief to use that as seed money to raise some sponsorship funds which initially then grew to 250.000 DKK (£30.000)

They then developed a relationship with the Danish Red Cross and the club continued their innovative work and later that year could give Red Cross a cheque for 1 million DKK (120.000 DKK) which meant that 1500 poor kids in Uganda received a complete football kit and 400 footballs were also sent to the kids.

Since then they have played legends from elite clubs including Celtic FC, Ajax Amsterdam, Hamburg, Tottenham Hotspur, FC Barcelona, Arsenal FC

They have also played inside the gates of Danish maximum security prison, played some Danish expatriates in Dubai. They have played in the desert, Arctic and Shanghai.  They have also played at The Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium. the highest stadium in Europe (at an altitude of 2,000 m above sea level) – they do get around.

They have over the years raised money to provide 50 houses in Burundi working with Danish charity ADRA

They also played Denmark’s longest football match 10 hours, donating 250.000 polio vaccines to UNICEF

In 2015 they launched their UNICEF CUP which over the years has included teams such as the TV Presenters, the Comedians, the Engineers, the Youtubers, the Musicians, the UNICEF volunteers and many others.

What really impresses me is ´not just the innovation in terms of who and where they play, but also the amazing fundraising and partnerships with charities and NGO´and the persistence, doing this, year after year – very impressive.

Anders Lunde and Simon Schiølin and the rest of the team are considering which ways forward, but we are convinced that they will keep playing in all sorts of places and raising loads of money for good causes across the world.

1500 football kits donated to kids in Uganda 

Highlighted on Danish prime time TV click here  

Meeting Diago Maradonna

Presenting another cheque for Red Cross

Playing football in the Arctic

Playing FC Barcelona – one  the very few other football clubs who are allowed to wear the UNICEF logo on their shirts