'Football brings people together' - Refugee who fled persecution dreams of being a photographer at Arsenal

On World Refugee Day, refugee Mehdi Rakhshandeh explains how football unites and shares his dream of wanting to become a photographer at Arsenal

'Football brings people together' - Refugee who fled persecution dreams of being a photographer at Arsenal

A player at the Justice First Football Tournament in Middlesbrough. Photograph: Mehdi Rakhshandeh/Goal Click

“I dream of being a photographer at Arsenal,” says Mehdi Rakhshandeh.

Such a desire is not uncommon among those who love photography and sport. Yet what makes Mehdi’s ambition more poigniant is that he is a refugee from Iran.

Mehdi was a professional sports photographer in his homeland before he had to flee the regime, and now dreams of continuing his passion in the UK with his ultimate dream to be a photographer for one of the biggest clubs in world football, Arsenal.

“My name is Mehdi Rakhshandeh and was born in Rasht, in the north of Iran,” he explains, adding: “I played football regularly as a goalkeeper in Iran - not at a high level, just games with my friends from the local town. I was a sports photographer and reporter in Iran for 15 years. I worked for a news agency and was a photographer for the club Sepidrood Rasht SC.

“I moved to London in November 2019, after first living in Middlesbrough when I arrived in the UK and have been doing photography in the city. Sometimes I play football with my friends. I want to work in a top football club like Arsenal.

“In the future I hope to return to my true passion of sports photography and journalism. In my home country of Iran this was my profession and I hope one day to be able to do this in my new adopted country.”

To mark World Refugee Day, Goal Click – a website which shares stories from the world of the beautiful game - and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, have launched a new photographic and text series, Goal Click Refugees.

Goal Click gave refugees around the world a disposable analogue camera to capture the realities of their football lives and communities. The stories show what football means to refugees who have fled war in places such as Syria and South Sudan, highlighting the experiences of refugees through the shared language of football.

This includes Mehdi.

Given the restart of the Premier League more and more people are coming together through their shared loved of football. Goal Click Refugees will be a year-long campaign, building towards a physical exhibition during the UEFA European Football Championship in 2021.

Mehdi said his passion for football and photography is shared by everyone in his community, insisting football has a  unique and magical ability to bring different people together, from all backgrounds: “Football is important to me as it is a way of bringing people together and sharing a common love for the game. It also helps in life because it can make you feel lots of different emotions. From the thrill of winning a match, scoring a goal or saving a penalty, to the disappointment of losing or the pain of getting injured.”

Football is also helping to break down divides between men and women. Maram, 14, a girl from Zaatari camp in Jordan said: “Some people in the camp believe that football is only for boys, and girls shouldn’t do it. But when I play football it raises my spirits and it reinforces my self-confidence. I can be the person that changes how the community perceives girls’ football and breaks the wall of shame.”

For more information on the project follow @Refugees @Goal_Click on Twitter and Instagram:@refugees @Goalclick #GoalClickRefugee

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