Boise-based Afghan football club brings home the Refugee Championship Soccer Cup
On Saturday, a crowd of about 100 people came to the Boise High Athletic Complex and braved the chilling winds to cheer for the first home game organized by the Toofan Football Club, a team started six years ago by local Afghan refugees.
After some welcoming words, a reading from the Koran and of course both American and Afghan anthems, the game kicked off.
The plan, according to Captain Mohammad Shafi, was to keep the game in the midfield.
And it paid off.
After a hard fought match, Toofan FC beat the United FC 2 to 1. The visiting team, the Afghan United FC of Seattle is also made of refugee players. Last year, the Toofan club raised enough money to go play against them in Washington State. They lost by one point then, but this time, the they played on their own turf, and brought some enthusiastic supporters.
“Even though the weather was windy, all the families were here with their kids encouraging us. ” Shafi said, beaming with pride after the event. “That was great, we really enjoyed it.”
“Most of the soccer sports in America is kind of hard for us,” he said. “Budget wise, time wise and coaching wise.”
Everyone in the world plays soccer, and it’s easy to just get a ball and start playing, he said. “That's what we used to do back home.”
“You don't know anyone until you find a reason to start the conversation. And soccer is one of that,” Shafi added, explaining that many refugees’ first experience in a new country can feel pretty lonely at first.
“We went into the park, we saw the kids playing and we started making friends. And then eventually we met other guys,” he said. Eight months later, the Toofan Club was started.
"This is not only for Afghans, it's for all the refugees."
Toofan means Thunderstorm in Afghan language. The team came up with the name after seeing the younger players rushing the ball towards the goal like hurricanes.
Toofan team Manager Behrouz Beheshti spent several months working hard to organize the event.
“The reason that we are trying to do this is not only for Afghans, it's for all the refugees,” he said. He said he hoped the league would encourage young players to pursue sports as a career but also make them feel at home.
According to the U.S. Department of State, about 97,000 refugees from Afghanistan have arrived in the United States since the collapse of the Afghan government in 2021 following the chaotic retrieval of U.S. troops from the country. There are roughly 3,000 Afghan refugees in Idaho, with a large majority living in Boise.
Some of the players have been in Idaho since the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan over 20 years ago, while others arrived recently following the evacuation of some civilians the Taliban took over again two years ago.
One of their biggest challenges so far, Beheshti said, has been to find a field to play on regularly. It’s also been hard for some of the players to get off of work to practice on Saturdays.
The meetup was so successful, Beheshti and the other guys behind it have decided to start a Championship Cup with other refugee teams.
“The idea is to start a small league, continuous league for Afghan communities residing everywhere, and especially in the northwest United States,” said Nawid Mousa, the manager of the recently opened Afghan Cultural Center of Idaho.
“We are going to invite them to play us in the future, and we are hoping that we can go there and play against them,” he added.
The ACCI is part of the Idaho Office for Refugees and was founded to promote Afghan culture within the broader community. The center sponsored the event and the team.
Now they’re hoping other teams from across the Mountain West region like Salt Lake City or Sacramento will join and expand their refugee league.
“It’s going to be a cup now,” Shafi said on his way to celebrate Toofan’s win. “Eight teams and whoever wins, keeps the cup. But so far it's in Idaho.”