IRCOM refugee boys victorious – on and off the pitch

IRCOM boys team with their coach Dave Patton, upper left and assistant Bisetsa Bahati at right.

IRCOM boys team with their coach, Dave Patton (upper left) and assistant Bisetsa Bahati (right). PHOTO: Trevor Smith

You’d have to have your head buried in the sand to not be aware of the developing refugee situation in Europe. Fortunately, it’s not yet at crisis point here in Canada. Still though, many provinces have always taken a fair share of people fleeing oppressive regimes and made them welcome.

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) is one local organization providing assistance and hope for those who are far less fortunate than most Canadians.

They’ve been doing this for about 25 years now and provide a transitional housing complex for newcomers, as well as programs designed to integrate refugees into Canadian society.

One of those programs is a soccer team for boys under thirteen and they have been very successful. Beating all challengers along the way, they made it to the Cambrian Challenge Cup Final of the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association’s recreational league.

The final game was played at John Blumberg soccer site on Sat. Sep. 26 where they took on a team from St. John’s Ravenscourt.

They took along a couple of school buses filled with family and friends to cheer them on. Support that was unfortunately lacking during their other games this year but never the less came out for the big game.

Two thirds of the IRCOM house residents are under 18 years of age and have endured hardships and trauma most of us couldn’t imagine.

They face challenges with both schooling and the English language. They’re also prime targets for gang recruitment, so it’s programs such as these that provide positive role models and encouragement.

Their coach, David Patton, is one of those role models. Having come here from Northern Ireland during the “troubles” he can understand living in an area that has seen more than its fair share of violence.

Today he volunteers his time to coach these boys and instill good values along the way.

This was the stuff of sporting legends. First of all, both teams had to overcome gale force winds.

Then, it was a rag tag team of mostly African immigrants taking on a team from one of Winnipeg’s finest schools. A school with a well-funded sports program, and not only did they beat them but they beat them handily by a score of 4-1.

The wind was definitely a factor with all goals being scored downwind. But perhaps it was in the second half when IRCOM was playing into the wind that they began to excel, stymieing the St John’s attack by good ball control skills, accurate passing and a few deft moves.

There was a solid performance from the IRCOM goalie Sangam Sanyasi who faced two penalty shots. Saving the first but being denied a shut-out by another one in the last minute.

And of course four goals scored by Azuber Maunir, Augustin Mateso, Manael Weldegbrel and Khalid Alalcool.

The IRCOM boys team hoisting the Cambrian Cup

IRCOM boys team hoisting the Cambrian Cup. PHOTO: Trevor Smith

As the trophies and medals were presented afterwards the St John’s coach Andrew Robinson was very gracious in defeat with nothing but praise for the things they learned from games against the IRCOM team.

These kids are winners, and not just in a big soccer game. For one thing they’re still alive, which they might not have been had they remained behind in their own countries. And they’re embarking on a bright new future here in Winnipeg with the help of IRCOM and people like Dave Patton who volunteer their time freely.

Trevor Smith


Trevor Smith is an engineering technologist at the University of Manitoba and a local community journalist in Winnipeg MB.