Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, as mass migrations occurred throughout the globe, from South America to Australia, and all across Europe, football clubs were set up by immigrant groups. Some were formed as a symbol of national identity, as a rallying point in the face of hostility and discrimination, others as a link to their homeland, or as a means of integrating with their new home country. While the majority of these football clubs remained within the community, others, like those below, grew wings, going on to achieve both national and international fame and glory.
One of the biggest football clubs in Brazil, Palmeiras – who have won 13 national competitions, more than any other Brazilian club – started life as a humble immigrant club for Italian expatriates in São Paulo. Formed in 1914 as Palestra Italia by 4 young Italian immigrants who viewed the club as a representative of the Italian community in São Paulo, modern day Palmeiras boasts a support base of around 17 million fans, many of them Brazilians of Italian origin (who number some 32 million).
The club changed its name from Palestra Italia to its current moniker in 1942, when Brazil joined the Allied war effort. Then-Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas declared a ban on the use of names related to any of the Axis Powers, of which Italy was one, and so the club obliged. Although the Verdão are no longer an ‘Italian side’, inklings of the club’s Italian heritage are still in evidence, no more so than in the name of their recently-acquired stadium, the Palestra Itália Arena.
Way back in 1877, members of the expatriate Greek community in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) decided to form Hermes Sports Club as a means of recreation. Once the Greco-Turkish war broke out at the turn of the 20th century however, the club’s founders fled to the Greek port city of Thessaloniki (the birthplace, incidentally, of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey).
From the ruins of Hermes rose PAOK Thessaloniki in 1926, sporting the emblem of a Byzantine-style double-headed eagle. A proud football club that is now approaching its centenary, the Dikéfalos have never been relegated from the Greek Superleague and, in the 1970s, managed to break the Athenian hegemony in the Greek top flight. Although PAOK’s last league title was way back in 1985, their fans are still one of the loudest, proudest and fiercest sets in Europe.
Assyriska FF (Sweden)
Formed by Assyrian immigrants in 1974, Assyriska FF are the most successful and famed immigrant club in Scandinavia. Based in the industrial city of Södertälje, where 39% of the population is of non-Swedish heritage, they made it to the Swedish Cup final in 2003 and two years later became the first ever immigrant team to reach the Allsvenskan, the Swedish top flight.
Currently plying their trade in the Swedish Second Division, AFF lack the support of the majority of Södertälje residents, but do boast a fan base that is spread across the world. Viewed by many as the unofficial national team of the Assyrian people, a stateless Christian minority spread between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the team has also helped the 20,000 Assyrian‐Syrian immigrants to become the most integrated group in Södertälje.
Sydney United FC (Australia)
Emblazoned with a crest comprising the red and white sahovnica, Sydney United were formed as Sydney Croatia in 1958, by Croatian immigrants based in the Edensor Park area of Sydney. The club gained popularity in the 70s as the number of Croatian migrants to Australia jumped to over 120,000, and it won its first NSW Premiership in 1977.
A household name in Australian football, the club has produced almost 40 Socceroos internationals, including Mark Bosnich, Jason Culina, Zeljko Kalac, Mile Sterjovski, and Tony Popovic. Nowadays, United play in the New South Wales Premier League and remain dedicated to the Croatian community in Australia, operating as a sister club of another Australian-Croatian club, Melbourne Knights.
FC Lusitanos (Andorra)
As the club’s name, crest and kit colours suggest, FC Lusitanos is an Andorra-based club consisted almost exclusively of Portuguese immigrants, a demographic which makes up an estimated 15% of the population. Formed in 1999, the Lusitans are a relative newcomer to the football scene in the tiny Pyrenean nation, but they wasted no time in making their mark, winning consecutive national league titles in 2012 and 2013.
As with all Andorran teams however, their record in European competitions is poor to say the least, drawing one and losing five, with a goal average of 4-33, and they haven’t progressed past the first stage in any of their four attempts.
FBK Balkan (Sweden)
Located in the working class suburb of Rosengard, outside Malmo, FBK Balkan was formed in 1962 by Yugoslav immigrants. Since then, they have yo-yoed between the leagues of the Swedish lower tier, never really making a big splash. The club is known internationally however as being the breeding ground for the numerous talented young Skåne players of former Yugoslav heritage. Amongst them, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be the undoubted star pupil of FBK Balkan, having started his ascent to global fame and glory playing for the Rosengard Blues.
Alianza Lima (Peru)
The most popular club in Peru originally started out as an athletic association of Italian and Chinese working class residents in the nation’s capital city. Founded in 1901, as Sport Alianza, the team’s first kit was green and white, in honour of their first president, the Italian-Peruvian Eduardo Pedreschi.
The club was struck by tragedy in 1987, when its entire squad and coaching staff was killed in a plane crash while returning from an away match in Pucallpa. Hugely successful, Alianza have amassed a tally of 22 national titles, second only to cross-city rivals Universitario, with their most recent league victory coming in 2006.
CD Palestino (Chile)
Hailing from the Chilean capital of Santiago, Club Deportivo Palestino’s name firmly identifies its immigrant roots. With Chile believed to be home to the largest Palestinian community outside of the Arab world, and football being such as huge passion in the country, the club was founded by Santiago’s Palestinian community in 1920.
During their 95 years of existence, the club, nicknamed Los Arabes, have won two national titles and two cups, while wearing the Palestinian-inspired red, green and black striped kit. In 2014, the Chilean football federation, citing “the involvement of football with politics and religion”, banned the club from wearing a new shirt that had the number one shaped as the map of Palestine before the creation of Israel in 1947.
Dalkurd FF (Sweden)
Founded on Sep. 26, 2004 by nine Kurdish immigrants in the Swedish city of Borlänge, Dalkurd FF was set up as a social project to keep local children distracted from the vices of the streets. The club has since remained true to its motto of being “born with a social responsibility”, dedicating itself to building academies in both Sweden and the Kurdistan Region, while helping refugees to integrate with Swedish society.
Despite their meagre budget and lack of footballing tradition, Dalkurd have amassed millions of social media followers from across the globe, and recently gained promotion to the Allsvenskan. Boasting players from a myriad of backgrounds, the team’s colours are symbolic of Kurdistan, with the Kurdish flag included in the crest on their shirts.
Glasgow Celtic (Scotland)
Celtic Football Club was set up as a charity to alleviate the poverty facing the thousands of Irish immigrants in Glasgow’s East End during the late 19th century. Adopting the green and white hoops and flying the Irish tricolour over the stands of Celtic Park, the club quickly drew a large support base among the Irish immigrant community in Scotland, as well as the Irish diaspora around the world, who viewed the club as a representation of their homeland.
Now one of the most famous football clubs in the world, Celtic have won 48 Scottish league titles and were the first club from the British Isles to win the European Cup, in 1967.