Melbourne refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi returned to his local football club in Melbourne’s north on Friday night to a crowd of supporters and fans – not to play the game but to toss the coin against a bayside club.
“I’m so happy now to be back at the Pascoe Vale Club,” he told the Seven Network at the CB Reserve.
“It’s a special night for my life all they people who fight for my case they will come to watch me here.”
Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, wasn’t ready to show his skill set for the club’s first home game but he humbly walked onto the field for the coin toss as his supporters celebrated his release.
Former Socceroo captain Craig Foster was among the fans and supporters at the game against the Bentleigh Greens.
“It’s lovely to be able to celebrate with Hakeem tonight particularly with all the people around him who are really his Australian family,” Mr Foster said on Friday night.
Last night Pascoe Vale Football Club celebrated Hakeem al-Araibi’s safe return to Australia.
Shot for ABC News Melbourne pic.twitter.com/nov1Vv2zRi
— Danielle Bonica (@daniellebABC) February 22, 2019
The Professional Footballers Association chief executive said the match was a celebration of Hakeem’s freedom and the power of football to unite people.
“The campaign for Hakeem’s release demonstrated the potential of football in this country; when football unites, there is no limit to what we can achieve,” John Didulica said.
Al-Araibi returned to Melbourne last week after a much-publicised stint in a Bangkok jail after his birth country Bahrain pursued his extradition over allegations he vandalised a police station before he sought asylum in Australia, which he denies.
Throughout his two-month incarceration, al-Araibi said he maintained his fitness in anticipation of returning to his beloved soccer club and the semi-professional league.
Al-Araibi is back training with the group and hopes to be back playing for the club within a month.