Norwich City FC has had a strong connection to refugee histories ever since its formation in 1902. From the Strangers of the 16th century all the way up to the players of today, refugees have made valuable contributions to the Canaries. Here are some of their stories.
In the 16th century, a large number of refugees fleeing religious persecution in the Low Countries settled in Norwich. This group, who became known as the Strangers, brought their pet canaries with them. Canary breeding was originally associated with the weaving industry, to which the Strangers were key contributors. By the early 18th century canary breeding had become a popular pastime in Norwich and the City had developed its own varieties, such as the Norwich Canary. Norwich City was formed in 1902, and by 1905 the team were already being referred to as “the Canaries” in the local press. City had originally played in pale blue and white shirts, but switched to yellow shirts in 1907. The club then adopted the Canary as its badge in 1922 when a supporter made a set of canary badges which were sewn onto the players’ shirts.
Joe (José) and Tony (Antonio) Gallego
José and Antonio Gallego came to Britain as Basque refugees in 1937 after their father was killed during the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. They spent time in children’s homes in Cambridge and worked on local farms, which was when they started to learn to play football. The brothers played for opposing Cambridge teams, and on one occasion they faced each other when United, with Tony in goal, beat Town 7-2, with Joe on the left wing. Tony signed professionally as goalkeeper for Norwich City during the 1946/47 season. Joe went on to play for Brentford, Southampton and Colchester, while Tony also played for Canterbury City and Biggleswade Town. He also made an emergency appearance for Margate, and was only able to play when a telegraph boy arrived ten minutes before kick-off with his paperwork. The team went on to beat Dartford 7-0 in the Kent Senior Shield match. They both lived the rest of their lives in Cambridge, Joe dying at 83 in 2006 and Tony in 2015 aged 90. ‘Football meant everything to us; it was the only thing we knew about,’ Tony told El Pais in 2012. ‘We got attached to Cambridge and made a lot of friends here through playing football.
Mario was born in Brod in Bosnia, one of the first towns to be hit by conflict when the Bosnian war broke out in 1992. Mario’s parents fled to Germany before the war began, his father going first to look for work, while Mario followed later with his mother. He cannot remember the details of the escape, but knows from his parents’ stories that it must have been a bad time. For a while, it was not certain that the family’s status would be recognized as war refugees, but the family received their right of residence in 1994. Mario began his football career at Mainz 05 and went on to play in Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga. He represented Germany at youth level and was part of the squad that won the 2008 European Under-19s Championships. In 2015 he made his debut for the Bosnian national team. “No one would be happier than me to play for the national team because Bosnia and Herzegovina is my homeland,” he said. “Regardless of where I would live, that Bosnian spirit and pride is always in me.” Mario signed for Norwich City FC in the summer of 2017 and is a central midfielder and a regular starter for The Canaries this season. Like the Gallego brothers, Mario’s older brother Damir is also a professional footballer and currently plays for German club FT Braunschweig.
Mario is a supporter of Norfolk Welcomes. Click here to watch him answer the questions of pupils in Year 4 at Avenue Junior School and talk about his family’s experiences fleeing Bosnia to find sanctuary in Germany.
See Mario answering questions about his life from Year 4 pupils at Avenue Junior School, Norwich by following the link below.
Community work and campaigning
Norwich City FC was one of thirty clubs across the country to support Amnesty International’s Football Welcomes initiative in 2017. They have previously raised money for charities who support refugees and the club continues to work through its Community Sports Foundation with projects that engage with people coming to Norfolk for the first time. ‘The Canaries’ have been awarded Kick It Out’s Equality Standard in recognition of their work to promote equality.