Pshtiwan Ali

Iraq to the UK: A Refugee Referees Story

This year for Refugees Week, we sat down with Pshtiwan Ali to chat about his journey as a refugee referee in the UK.

Iraq to the UK: A Refugee Referee’s Story

As part of Refugee Week, we sat down with Pshtiwan Ali to discuss his experience as an Iraqi Refugee and how he’s continuing his refereeing career here in the UK.

Starting off, can you tell us a little bit about your background and story?

My name is Phstiwan Ali, I’m from Iraq, and I’m Iraqi Kurdish. I’m 32 years old and I have been refereeing in my country for about 18 years since I was 15. I came to the UK in 2022. I was in Aldershot, Hampshire to start with but the home office moved me to Bristol and that’s when I contacted the Gloucestershire FA. Roger [Vaughan] has been very supportive and kind to me and has welcomed me to the country so I could continue my career, so I’m so happy about that.

How has the GFA supported you since you came to the UK?

I’m an asylum seeker, so when I came here, GFA didn’t say you can’t or anything, they said you are welcome here, this is your country. There was no racism and didn’t care about my religion. I’m Muslim but when I came here, everything was accepted. When I went to referee my first match, everything was accepted, and everyone welcomed me and said that they were so happy that I was here, when I went to ref a match everybody was a bit surprised, an asylum seeker refereeing? It brought up many questions for people. But everyone welcomed me, everyone in the UK and especially in football, has been very very accepting of people like me as an asylum seeker. I haven’t seen any racism or people saying I can’t do certain things. Another thing is that I’m a voluntary ref and I have some much respect for others. I’m just really happy about continuing my career here and the GFA have helped me a lot.

So going back to the start, how did you get into refereeing and where did your interest come from?

When I was a child my favourite thing was football. Playing, watching and then refereeing, when I realised I really enjoyed refereeing I just tried to find how I can start it. You can only do Football refereeing if you really like it, if you don’t then you can’t. You should love your career! I like football refereeing, and I’m so happy about my new life in the UK and continuing my career.

Thanks a lot to GFA because they have been very very kind to me. From when I came here at the start until now. Last season, I refereed one of the GFA Cup Finals which was very special.

What impact has football had on your life?

Honestly, I’m never going to stop refereeing. It’s in me, and I’m just thinking about refereeing and nothing else. I really really enjoy it and it’s very nice for me. In the UK, you can see your favourite referees Stuart Attwell, and Anthony Taylor. Last month, I went up to Cheltenham and saw Anthony Taylor, and before that, I saw Stuart Attwell. So it’s really nice, and sometimes you just can’t explain because it is your life and dream I can say that football refereeing is my dream. I have lots of dreams, but refereeing is number one.

What aspirations do you have for your future refereeing career?

Its the same dream for every referee, and I hope one day I can referee in the Premier League, Championship, league One, League Two or National League. It is my dream, but I will not stop trying. The first step would be language, practice with my language, language is very important in my profession. If Im speaking well and understand well, then I can continue my career. So first of all Im just trying to get better at understanding and practice with my language. Honestly, I have a dream, and I wont stop looking to the future. I hope one day I will referee in the Premier League. Why not! 

It’s Refugee Week this week, so can we ask what are your thoughts on this, and do you have a message for the importance of supporting refugees?

My message to people like me would be when people come to a country is that they need to learn the language, it’s a big message. If you can’t speak or understand, it’s not very nice for you and won’t be very helpful for you. And another one is respect to all religions and all types of gender, different faiths, different ideas, and just to respect everyone. You need to keep calm going through your process, and you can start volunteering. I’m really happy starting my career with volunteering, and another thing is that I remember when I went to officiate a match, both managers tried to pay me, but I said I was voluntary and they were shocked! It’s important to respect the government and respect the laws, and I’m excited about my career.

For me, I’m just trying to find how I can get better in my career, so I need more help from the county, they have given me a lot already to help me find my career and hobby, and I hope that GFA will help me more and I'm sure they will.

A huge thank you to Pshtiwan for coming in to the GFA office to have a chat with us. We hope that by shedding light on what it’s been like for one refugee, it will inspire others who are in a similar situation.