Workers get kick out of soccer

EZ Grow Farms goalkeeper Nicholas James blocks a penalty kick during a match on Sunday July 22, 2018 against Simcoe Lusos FC during the first annual Farms of Norfolk Football Association tournament in Simcoe, Ontario. Brian Thompson/Brantford Expositor/Postmedia Network Brian Thompson / Brian Thompson/The Expositor

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Forget FIFA – the play on Sunday was all about FNFA in Norfolk where off-shore seasonal farm workers were fighting for supremacy on the soccer field.

The first Farms of Norfolk Football Association tournament featured farm workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Mexico pitted against each other and against local players who were mainly associated with the farming industry in some way.

“It’s so nice to get everybody together,” said a worker from Jamaica who provided only a first name. Herman has been returning to Simcoe’s P & S VanBerlo farm annually for the past 15 years.

Sundays would normally be spent at the farm, Herman said, tending a ginseng crop but the workers there looked forward to a day of friendly competition in the sun.

That didn’t exactly pan out – the day poured down rain on the players through the morning and drizzled through the afternoon.

“We were very excited about the day and then the rain dampened our spirits but then we heard it was to go ahead,” said Herman. “We really appreciate it.”

“There is a lovely spirit here,” agreed his co-worker, Rohan.

While welcoming the rain for the sake of the farming community, the six teams went head-to-head for the first FNFA trophy, which ended up in the hands of a local team.

The day, which included a fun-zone for kids and a barbecue for all, was organized by the Norfolk Seasonal Agricultural Workers Community Committee, a group that is focused on connecting with the migrant workers and improving their lives.

“These guys are here for up to eight months of the year, which is a long time to be away from home,” said Carrie Sinkowski, a community developer who works at the Community Legal Clinic and is a member of the committee.

She said the organization gets together on a regular basis to discuss the well-being of migrant workers in the area and kept hearing from the workers of their interest in soccer.

“So, I applied for a grant and we’re considering this a building year but we hope to make it an annual event.”

Sinkowski and the committee already hosts health clinics for the workers but the idea that more should be done to integrate them into the community resonated with many.

The government provided a seed grant from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and local businesses were quick to donate to the day.

Six teams were drawn together from four farms – P & S VanBerlo, Scotlynn, Breedyk and E Z Grow – and two more teams of Norfolk residents helped round out the play.

“The idea came from the workers but we wanted this to be an event from the community to the workers.”

The Simcoe and District Youth Soccer Club was “amazing” said Sinkowski, providing the space, advice and guidance at the Norfolk Youth Soccer Park.

Mayor Charlie Luke was one of the first to get on board with the project, volunteering on the day of the tournament, along with about 30 other area volunteers.

“The county sponsored the prizes for the winning team and the mayor’s been great,” said Sinkowski.

Luke suggested adding a skills competition, which was held right after lunch, to the day.

Chris Murphy, an account manager for Scotlynn Group, said the business, which provides transportation for the farm industry, entered two teams – one comprised of office workers and one of farm workers.

“We’ve scrimmaged together before so it’s nice to have the opportunity for some official play and to play others,” said Murphy.

Murphy said the community could use more soccer events.

“Right now there’s no indoor soccer in Simcoe and no older men’s teams.”

At the end of the day, it was FC Lusos, a local Norfolk team, that was declared the winner but the other dampened players and organizers were pleased with the event and have already selected a tentative tourney day for 2019.