Monday February 8, 2021
"Off the field, because we’re not articulate in our speech, we’re not what some would class as the 'ideal citizen' but it’s not the case"
Assistant manager of Tiger Bay FC Fuaad Musa (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
Sitting in the shadows of Cardiff's shiny new skyscrapers, it would be easy to miss Canal park - a modest strip of greenery in Butetown that connects the city centre to the bay.
Built on the once industrial waterway connection between the city and the docks, the wrought iron bar snaking around the grassy verge and two unassuming goalposts are the only indicators of a football pitch.
Gone are huge stands housing thousands of fans and in their place, the pitch is bordered to one side by an industrial estate and to the other by tower blocks and flats.
And while this humble pitch is reminiscent of hundreds up and down the country, until the coronavirus pandemic ground everything to a stop, every Saturday this ground became the centre of the community - as did the team that call it home.
Originally founded in 2009 entirely by first and second generation Somali immigrants, Tiger Bay FC are different to most local football teams.
As much as the 100 players across seven teams want to win games and prove themselves as serious competitors, Tiger Bay FC is about much more than just football.
The cornerstone of the team is about inclusivity, diversity and giving a voice to a community that has historically been silenced under the weight of the city.
In an irony not missed by the players, the protruding spikes of the Principality Stadium can be seen from the pitch - a stark contrast to Tiger Bay FC’s home ground.
Assistant manager Fuaad Musa (left) team player and Ashraf Boulaiche (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
Dating back as far as the late 19th century when thousands of immigrants moved to Cardiff to work at its thriving docks, Butetown has long been known as a melting pot of races, culture and religion.
Because of this, it was given its colloquial name of Tiger Bay - a slang term used for many dockland areas with a reputation.
And while those living in Butetown relish in the vibrancy and inclusivity of their community, they are also all too aware of its reputation - something Tiger Bay FC manager Mustafa Mohamed wants to challenge.
The 26-year-old of Somali heritage began playing with Tiger Bay FC when he was around 17-years-old. In his nine years at the club, not only has he been a player and manager of the adult side, he was instrumental in setting up a youth wine of the club.
The majority of the players in the adult squad have been under Mustafa's guidance since they were around 14.
"It started off as completely Somali based as they were looking to create their own community and express their identity, but as the youth teams started it's become much more diverse," said Mustafa.
Last season, Tiger Bay finished fourth in the Premier Division of the Cardiff Combination League when the league was brought to a premature close in March. (Image: Tiger Bay FC)
"The team is for all young people who are disadvantaged - regardless of their race, nationality and religion. Now we have players from around eight different nations in the mens team, from Morroccan to Egyptian, Sudanese, Yemenis, Libyan.
"The population of Butetown has changed and you have to be reflective of that, it's always been a diverse community."
More than a century after the first of her family’s countrymen and women first arrived in the docks of Wales’ capital in the 1880s the Somali community in Cardiff has grown to number in the thousands and become part of the city’s own identity.
Around 10,000 Somalis currently live in Cardiff, according to latest figures from the International Organisation for Migration, making it one of the largest populations in the UK.
Mustafa is Somalian himself, and says that although it's important to preserve the history of Butetown, it's more important that the young people who live in the community feel as though they can be represented and have a voice.
"Tiger Bay or Butetown is culturally diverse the aim of the team is to be reflective of the community and about people's different backgrounds and communities coming together.
"On the field we’re known as being skillful and aggressive in our play, but off the field because we’re not articulate in our speech, we’re not what some would class as the 'ideal citizen' but it’s not the case," said Mustafa.
(Image: Tiger Bay FC)
"For example, there’s a block of flats in Butetown and there’s just so many different people there - so many graduates. There’s doctors there, there's lawyers, engineers, all those sort of people but it doesn't get highlighted because everyone wants to see the bad about the area.
"So that’s our mission is to highlight that the people of Butetown are smart, intelligent people and not what people think."
Between January and December 2020, there were over 3,000 crimes reported in Butetown. Alongside this, two years ago, Butetown had the highest was named the area of Cardiff with the highest levels of child poverty.
It is facts like these that Mustafa says highlights the importance of the team, and that harnessing young talent in the community is more important than ever.
"It takes a village to raise a child and that resides within us. There’s a lot of stigma about the Butetown area with drugs and crime and things like this but the reality is, in my opinion, it’s one of the safest places in Cardiff.
"You’ve got freedom to express yourself, between your religion, your culture, the neighbours all know each other, everyone looks out for each other.
"When you’re part of the team you don’t want to go down the wrong path because everyone is watching you.
"A lot of our problems with young people is that they can’t articulate themselves in a way that is coherent so whether its their parents asking, or even the police asking a simple question of ‘what’s going on?’ and they get defensive they put a barrier up.
"They don’t know how to express their rights as a citizen and have a civil conversation. I think communication is essential to everything and how you conduct yourself, we're really trying to instill that with the team."
By the 1950s it is thought that 57 nationalities were counted among the 10,000 people living in Butetown - or the mile-long stretch known as Tiger Bay.
However, in just a few short years, a decline in traditional industry saw the cost of land decrease. Money poured in and developments sprang up.
A vibrant, multicultural community was pushed to the side to make way for these private developments that came flooding in. Houses were demolished, streets were lost and families that had lived side by side for decades were torn apart.
Butetown and Cardiff bay are separated by these developments both physically and metaphorically. So much so, that a boundary dividing the two are known by locals as 'The Berlin Wall' which serves to ostracise Butetown.
Butetown and Cardiff bay are separated by these developments. So much so, that a boundary dividing the two are known by locals as 'The Berlin Wall' which serves to ostracise Butetown. (Image: Rob Browne/Walesonline)
There is still a strong multicultural community in the area - but many see it as full of lines, invisible and visible, dividing the area in two.
Above that, Mustafa thinks that the stigma imposed upon the community serves to isolate them from the rest of the city entirely.
"It’s very hard to get a team together and get into a league. When we first started, the league was asking ‘are you going to ensure the safety of other children?’ and of course it’s a stupid question to ask, but from their perspective, because of the area, there’s a percepetion that it’s ‘dangerous’, it’s this, it’s that'.
"Now opposition teams when they come, they feel at home, they park on the streets no problem, they go to the cafes after the game or at half time - they come from every single corner of Cardiff and that’s because barriers have been broken down.
"You’d never see people coming from Pentwyn, Pentyrch, Fairwater and all places all over Cardiff because they’d be wondering ‘have they got the right facilities."
Butetown Community Centre is set among the tower blocks and estates that replaced Tiger Bay when it was razed in the 1960s.
The aim was to redevelop the area, and there's no denying that happened. But the Tiger Bay and Butetown community often feel like they were, and still are, left out.
Assistant Manager of the team Fuaad Musa explains the significance of holding the games at Canal Park adjacent to the community centre - a building that is literally the centre of the community in more ways than one.
"This side of Cardiff, near to the ports, we pride ourselves that this is a melting point of many different communities and many different cultural backgrounds.
(Image: Tiger Bay FC)
"A lot of people within the community are first or second generation British born so their parents have migrated. Their fathers or grandparents were sailors with Cardiff being a huge port back in the day. It’s important we represent that in the team, that’s why we called it Tiger Bay FC.
"So, for Tiger Bay before the redevelopment into Cardiff bay is very representative to what the history of the area is and what we are standing for."
Fuaad, from Riverside, says that preconceptions about Butetown are misguided.
"I didn't have any preconceptions about the area like ‘oh I can’t go there at this time, or wearing this’ or anything like that, but I do understand from the outside looking in the stigma around the Butetown area and certain aspects of the community.
"What I would say is, there’s negative aspects like that to every community.
"Unemployment is rife, drug abuse is rife, that can happen on any street corner. Whether you walk down Butetown in the middle of the day or night, you are not more likely to get antagonised, abused or assaulted than if you were to go to Rumney, or Llantwit Major or Ely just as examples. I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on that point.
Maybe not so much now with the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay and I know Butetown is being redeveloped but even going back 10 or 15 years speaking to older friends and members of the community people were scared to come to Butetown."
The 23-year-old was never a player for the team, but got involved when he was required to complete voluntary hours for a college course.
He says that the notions of education are something the management team at the club continue to instil into the younger generations.
"There have been some games where there’s been some really heavy, hefty tackling, there’s been games where tensions have risen but when you look around the whole community is watching.
"How the community comes out to watch these games, if anything negative were to happen we would probably be banned from the league and it’s not worth it - we try and instil this.
"Those things don’t happen. If there is a scuffle it's usually between two players and it's a bit of a scuffle and words are exchanged and that's it."
The team management is so invested in educating and disciplining the team that they play an active part in making sure they complete their education.
Tiger Bay FC, Cardiff, a football club originally representing the community of 1st and 2nd generation Somalis but now has over 8 nationalities in the team. (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
They say that the aim is to give the community and the youth a sense of unity and purpose through football.
"We had a partnership with Fitzalan school where the pavilion would hold homework clubs and there would be sessions for English and maths GCSE," said Fuaad
"I know for a fact when I started with the under 16s that it was sort of known that if you weren't at this so-called homework club and your teachers have singled you out - you’re not playing on Saturday regardless of whether you train.
"Your grades are the most important and how you behave in school, we’re going to hear about that as much as your parents are.
"It’s easy for anyone to go down the wrong path and across our teams we have had people go down that road but because of the team and the mentality we provide they always come back.
"All we want to do is give these guys a platform to succeed and to have a successful life. We don’t want them to make decisions at this age that they will be living with for the rest of their lives."
If a further example was needed as to how close the community is - both literally and metaphorically - midfielder Ashraf Boulaiche's home overlooks the pitch.
At just 20 years old, he has already spent all his teenage years as part of the club and started playing at 14 years old. Of Moroccan descent, Ashraf says that "once you’re in the team, no matter where you’re from, or who you are, you all have the same goal".
"Tiger Bay is a pillar of the community, it represents the community in every way to its values.
"If you look at the team now you’ve got Moroccans like myself, Somalis, Yemenis, white people, black people, Welsh people - the team is very diverse.
"There are lots of different cultures and nationalities and personalities in the team that all come together. If you think about it, we’re all in it together, defending each other as a team."
Given his relative proximity to the team - and the community in general - Ashraf says he thinks the area is misunderstood.
"People from the outside look at Butetown differently. I think if you even spent a day in Butetown you’d love it, you’d want to be here. Everything here is so warm and friendly.
"Everyone knows each other, it’s a great community. I feel safe here.
"From the outside point of view, you look at the history of the area and think of it in a bad way, but the reality is when we go away to play or when people come to us we just try our best to show our community in the best way possible when we’re on the pitch.
"People look at us and say ‘oh they’re from that area’ but when we’re on the pitch nobody is from nowhere - it doesn’t matter."
20-year-old Ashraf Boulaiche has been playing with the team since he was 14 years old (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
While there is no denying the cultural significance of the team, there is no disputing how seriously the team takes the game.
Last season, Tiger Bay finished fourth in the Premier Division of the Cardiff Combination League when the league was brought to a premature close in March.
There are plans in place for joint redevelopment of Canal Park by Cardiff Council and Cardiff and Vale College that would see £1.9m invested in new facilities.
The idea is for clubs like Tiger Bay and others in the local area to share the 3G playing surface, changing rooms, multi-use gaming areas and floodlighting with the four Butetown primary schools, although the pandemic has put back the start of construction.
"You wouldn't believe how seriously we take it, It’s like we’re professionals lining up to play," said Ashraf.
"When you’re at home and you see everyone watching you just feel so proud to represent the community and represent Tiger Bay.
"We’ve played in many different countries like the Netherlands and Germany and we’ve been really fortunate to have those opportunities on a global level.
"Once you’re in the team, no matter where you’re from, or who you are, you all have the same goal.
"I feel like the most important part for me is being able to enjoy football and being around these people who I’ve grown up with. Being able to share this experience with people who I hold close to my heart is most important to me."