Most things to do with Aston Villa’s off-the-pitch status right now are bad. Let’s just put that out there. The trust we gave to a unknown chairman is now destroyed, the club’s front office is in flux, we’re not sure of the squad we’ll be able to deploy come the first kick-off of the coming season and we’re all worried about how Villa are being funded. Doom and gloom are very much in bloom at Villa Park right now.
While you may feel the rage of despair eat away as more and more of the unknown filters into your daily following of the club you support and love, there are still plenty of things to be proud of - and it’s not just Villa’s past triumphs. It’s actually about the work the club are doing right now. Yes, here and now - against what can feel like the gates of Hell itself. Things are occurring in the present that we should probably be paying more attention to.
Take the work of the Aston Villa Foundation for example. The AVF have performed a lot of work in the community surrounding Villa Park as of late. This season, overall, the foundation have donated hundreds of meals to charities in their area, used players like Jack Grealish and Andre Green in their community work and have even hosted members of the Royal Family. When you dig into the activities of the AVF, there’s a lot of heat-warming community work taking place, every single day - even when the Villa aren’t playing. Still, football is very much at the heart of the foundation - and that brings us to the headline of this story. We’re coming full circle now.
You may be already aware of Ramadan. It’s one of the five key pillars of the Islamic faith, and it takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar. It’s usually taking place when it’s hot and that’s a key fact as Ramadan, which according it’s to Arabic root phrase, can mean scorching heat or dryness. Ramadan isn’t just a period of time though, it’s also an activity. Followers of the Islamic faith will fast from sunrise until sunset. Why? Because it is simply one of the tasks put forward by Allah. This site itself mentions it as a test, will followers only perform the activities of faith that bring them joy, or will they commit to fasting? Eid al-Fitr is the holiday that brings an end to the fasting period. If you’ve got any questions, Google is your friend here.
You can probably understand that this period of fasting is a testing period. Only few are not obliged to fast - those who are ill, elderly or pregnant will not be expected to fast. You’ll notice that the previous listing does not mention footballers, which poses a particular challenge to a number of Muslims, who might want to play football, but will find it difficult to do so within the parameters of a fasting period.
That’s where Obayed Hussain and the Ramadan Midnight League comes in. Hussain conceptualised and deployed the idea of a football league that catered to those who were fasting during the Ramadan timeframe. This itself is an idea that he had fostered for a while. Obayed himself mentions that breaking into football was difficult, especially when pre-season training would swing into motion as Obayed was undergoing a daytime fast.
Really proud of the work done by all in pulling the Ramadan Midnight League together, not least @AVFCFoundation and @BirminghamFA. This is for the community by the community - would be great to see it now rolled out nationwide. #Ramadan #RML pic.twitter.com/BfdOvdctNN— Obayed Hussain (@obayedhussain) June 11, 2018
It’s not just Obayed who found it difficult either. A report from The Guardian mentions that gyms and football leagues face a drop in participation during Ramadan. It’s clear that there was a gap to be filled, and not for financial gain - but for the good of a community undergoing it’s yearly trial.
The games are laid on after the daily Ramadan fast is broken at sunset (Iftar) and before Suhūr, which is the pre-fast meal taken before the sun rises. This time in-between would usually be filled with nothingness. Loitering, boredom, tiredness. It’s all there between meals and prayers. The Ramadan Midnight League offers an option, what’s more, it’s not just for the benefit of Muslims in the Aston area. There are plenty of late-night fitness freaks, shift workers and others who want to get involved with a league that is anything but ordinary.
Where do Aston Villa come into this? Well, it’s the AVF who are laying the foundation so that Hussain’s idea can flourish. Water is provided, pitches are provided, and most importantly, administration is provided, so the league can be just that - a league.
Obayed’s goal with the league isn’t just to play football, or even get people off of the streets - it’s simply to promote inclusion. Not to fight anyone, not to spread faith - simply to create something that anyone can get involved with. That, in itself, is something that we shouldn’t just back, but fight for - with all of our might. Hopefully Obayed’s gem of an idea will continue to grow and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the Midnight League grow beyond Aston.