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'They are my brothers': Soccer club dominated by newcomers forges bonds in banner season

ملفات اخبار العرب24-كندا: The Saint John Under-18 boys soccer team huddles after a practice this week. The team, which has players from 11 countries, won the Division 1 provinicial championship this season. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Tim Nomanov is the only player on the provincial championship Saint John Soccer Club U-18 team who wears glasses. In his former home of Kazakhstan, he was unable to join a competitive team because he needs to wear them to play. 

His family came to Canada two years ago from Almaty for better, safer opportunities.

This summer, Tim scored three penalty goals in the Division 1 provincial championship round, playing with many teammates who, like him, began their lives in other countries.  

Tim's mother, Anna Nomanova, said playing team sports was something she wished for her son. 

Tim Nomanov, who moved to Canada from Kazakhstan, couldn't join a competitive team in his home country because he needed glasses to play. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

"It was a big surprise for us that he, without big background in soccer, can play in such a good team," she said. "And he's happy now." 

After six months in a new country, her shy teenager, once afraid of speaking another language, gained confidence and a support system at school and in the community through soccer, the mother said.  

The Saint John U-18 boys Division 1 soccer team is made up of mostly newcomers from 12 different countries. They made history by winning the provincial championship for the first time. 1:22

"It's a lot of emotions and just fantastic," Tim said. "The coach and the whole team is really friendly. They support me through everything. Every time when I had not a good time they supported me every time.

"So this is the main point —  that everybody's friendly here." 

In Syria, Abdul Allouz had no time to play any organized soccer.

"I had to work and go to school a lot. I went to school since six in the morning until 12 afternoon, and then from 12 afternoon to 9 p.m. to work. There is no time [to play]."

Nomanov pictured during a squad practice in Saint John on Wednesday night. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Abdul arrived in Saint John with his family three years ago and joined the Saint John Soccer Club at a friend's suggestion.  

"Being part of a team is very important to get to know more people, you'll get friends with them and basically they will count you as a Canadian. They won't be any kind of racist." 

"I just don't count them as players, I count them as brothers, they are my brothers." 

Members of the title-winning Saint John Under-18 soccer club pose for a photo with their commemorative banners. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Abdul's family has since grown by one, a new brother born almost a year ago in Saint John. 

Tim and Abdul are just two of the 12 newcomers to Canada who play on the championship Saint John Soccer Club team.

There are players from South Korea, Congo, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Algeria, Italy, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Ivory Coast.

Abdul Allouz, originally from Syria, describes his teammates as brothers. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Five of the players joined the team just this summer. 

Coach Alex Piedrahita said some players on the team have been in Saint John for fewer than eight months and are still working to become more confident in English.

The coach said he tried to share soccer plays and tips by getting more physically involved on the pitch rather than just by talking about them. 

Coach Alex Piedrahita arrived in Canada from Colombia as a boy in the 1990s. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Piedrahita considers himself a newcomer too. He arrived in Toronto from Colombia as a boy in the 1990s. 

"I could relate to a lot of what these players are going through as newcomers to Canada," Piedrahita says. "A lot of them getting more comfortable with being part of a new city or a new country and finding something that they have in common, which is what brings them together.

"The nice thing about the sport of football, or soccer as everyone here calls it, is that it's like an international language because it's something that a lot of these countries play." 

Piedrahita coaches the Saint John Under-18 Division 1 boys soccer team. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

One of the players from Ivory Coast by way of France, Marc N'Goran, regularly replied to coaching and team chatter with "Yes, sir." 

That short English phrase turned into a team chant and mantra, a comfortable way to joke around and break through the language barriers. It was the first step to building the team on respect and strong skills. 

Team captain Coby MacDonald said: "I learned a lot of patience honestly because the language barrier would get to me sometimes. It wouldn't even be like a time to say, 'Yes, sir,' and 'Yes, sir' would be said. Then everyone just started saying, 'Yes, sir.'" 

The players received mini banners celebrating their provincial title. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

After just a few practices in May, the summer game schedule began in June. Games were won and lost during the regular season. But the team was undefeated in the provincial championships in August, beating Restigouche 3-0 in the final.

It is the first Under-18 boys provincial championship for the Saint John Soccer Club. And it was won by a team of talented international underdogs, said Piedrahita.

Indoor practice begins for the winter season now, and the players unanimously expect to win again next year as a team. 

"Not just where you are born is your real home," Abdul said. "Soccer is love, soccer is everything for me now."

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