GAM UNITED FC: Far From Home, United
The story of soccer in the United States is the story of immigration. Unlike most of the major sports that have dominated this country for the last 100 years, soccer travelled to America from elsewhere and has never been able to shake that foreign shadow. The transplanted nature of of the sport has been used to by critics and fans alike to explain its struggle to gain more than just a foothold on American soil. But for so many immigrants, soccer is the sport of their fathers and mothers, grandparents and great-grandparents - it is a generational tie that binds families to their roots and bridges the geographical gap to their homeland. And after all, the United States is a nation of immigrants.
GAM United FC was founded in Aurora, Colorado in 2014 by Nfansu Janneh, an immigrant from Gambia. He founded the club “as a way to help develop and empower immigrants and refugee youths to be leaders in their communities.” Why the Denver suburb attracts so many immigrants and foreign born players, the club isn’t sure - “Maybe being so high up (5,280 feet above sea level)?” Whatever the reason for their arrival, Janneh’s club has prioritized recruiting immigrant players that have settled in the area and that approach has yielded great results.
The GAM, in GAM United FC, represented the home country (Gambia) of the club founder. But the meaning of the abbreviation has changed as the club has grown. According to the club, it “later changed the meaning of the name internally to 'Great Athletic Men'.” And those Great Athletic Men do indeed come from all over the world to wear the colors - 12 different African countries are represented on the squad and there are also two players from Iraq.
The focus of Uni-Formity is, of course, crest and kit design and the crest is what drew us to focus on GAM United FC. It’s eye-catching and unique. A lion, with a multicolored mane, heading a soccer ball - it’s fantastic! The lion and the unique mane were all chosen with intent- “Janneh chose the Lion because of its significance to Africa and the different colors because of the diversity of Africa. As much as people try to lump up all 54 countries in Africa - Africa is so diverse and filled with different beautiful personalities and cultures so he wanted to represent that in the mane of the Lion with the different colors.” The lion on the crest is as representative of the team wearing the kit as any in the sport - it is a beautiful combination of players from all over the world, immigrated to a new country, coming together to pursue a sport they love.
With the recent rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric, one might expect GAM United FC and its players, who have embraced their immigrant identity completely, to have dealt with some xenophobic or racist attacks. Not so, according to the club - “We haven't witnessed any racism or xenophobia. At least not directly to our faces. Colorado is a very accepting state for a lot of Immigrant and refugees.” And maybe that is the most promising aspect of this story. Immigrants, playing an immigrant game, being accepted by their new home country and carving out their own place. The lion, with its multicolored mane, is roaring freely in Colorado.
- Dan Vaughn