Gary Lineker and David Morrissey launch football book in aid of refugees

Amy Raphael, Gary Lineker and David Morrissey at the launch of A Game of Two Halves
© Samara Deen

England football legend Gary Lineker joined UN Goodwill Ambassador David Morrissey on Thursday at the London launch of A Game of Two Halves: Famous Football Fans Meet Their Heroes, proceeds from which will support the work of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

The book, compiled by author Amy Raphael, pairs some of the biggest names in football with their celebrity fans. The resulting conversations are frank, funny and often surprising, ranging from favourite goals, to racism and homophobia in football, mental health and inequality. Former and current England players Lineker and Raheem Sterling provide forewords.

Speaking at the launch event in London, Lineker explained why he felt interviews with footballers could help raise awareness of the plight of refugees.

“Football is hugely important to huge amounts of people on our planet. It can make a difference, and it does make a difference. I think we all have a social responsibility,” he said. “How can you not have empathy for people who’ve had to flee their homes, to leave their families, to get in boats and travel over waters, and lose their lives? How can you not have empathy towards people in those extraordinarily difficult circumstances?"

"By the sheer misfortune of being born where they’re born, refugees have had to flee their own country, which they obviously do not want to do. They’re fellow human beings and we should treat them as such.”

Fahd Saleh, David Lammy MP, Gary Lineker, Amy Raphael and David Morrissey

Fahd Saleh, David Lammy MP, Gary Lineker, Amy Raphael and David Morrissey at the launch of A Game of Two Halves  © Samara Deen

The inspiration for Raphael’s project came from travelling with Morrissey to see UNHCR’s work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and meeting families due to be resettled to the UK.

“We met refugees in Lebanon who had to leave their other family members behind in Syria, and mothers were just crying because they didn’t know when they’d see their family again,” said Morrissey. 

“But seeing refugees resettled here in the UK by UNHCR, trying their best to keep families together, shows that there are great stories of hope. There are people doing wonderful things – in football, music, education – but they can only have those stories of hope with the support that they get from UNHCR. That’s why we need everyone to buy the book. Everyone can do something to help. Some of us can do a little, some of us can do a lot  ̶  as long as you do something.”

Raphael decided to bring together famous football fans and their heroes and record the common ground they found through their conversations. “Football is a universal language,” she explained. “Maybe I’m being ridiculously optimistic, but through the prism of football, we can perhaps see ourselves more as a global ‘us’ than and ‘us v. them.’”

A Game of Two Halves includes interviews between Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp and comedian John Bishop; David Lammy MP and England defender Eric Dier; musician and former guitarist with The Smiths Johnny Marr and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola; and former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand is interviewed by Countdown TV host Rachel Riley.

The book’s other famous pairings include England and Arsenal legend Ian Wright and grime artist Wretch 32; sports presenter Clare Balding and England player Lucy Bronze; and best-selling crime writer Val McDermid and Raith Rovers manager John McGlynn. Comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Omid Djalili also interviewed Arsenal’s Héctor Bellerín and Chelsea coach Frank Lampard respectively for the book. Morrissey met with his Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard and Lineker interviewed Fahd Saleh, a Syrian refugee and former professional goal keeper from Damascus, an experience he described as “thought-provoking and inspiring.”

Half of all royalties from A Game of Two Halves will be in aid of UNHCR’s work with refugees. Copies of the book can be purchased here.