Wales football fans 'give a little something back' as they travel to support their team

Wales' travelling football fans are supporting more than just their team, Correspondent Lucy Watson reports

When we arrived at the Umid Yeri Children’s Home on the outskirts of Baku in Azerbaijan, a few boys were singing as they played on a garden swing. We had no idea what the song was so I asked our interpreter to translate it for me.

“Our wishes, our dreams, we keep in our hearts,” he explained.

It seemed too heartbreaking to be true. These were orphans, street children and vulnerable young people we were filming, all being cared for at the centre.

We met beautiful Angelina. A nine-year-old blonde-haired girl. We were told that her mother had been deemed unfit to care for her and nobody knew who her father was.

We were also introduced to Rashad, who was 13. He lost both his parents six months ago. He was so obviously very caring around the others. One of the care workers explained to me that he likes being a big brother to them all.

90 children, aged two to 14, live at Umid Yeri. Its name means Place of Hope. It was the first such centre set up in Azerbaijan once the country became independent of the Soviet Union.

Back in 2002, Tim Hartley came to visit the home when Wales first played here. He was struck by the poverty he saw back then.

He told me: “When we first came here, Azerbaijan felt like a very poor country. The city of Baku was dusty and run down.”

Wales fan Tim Hartley says he wanted to 'give a little something back' when he travelled to Azerbaijan to see his football team play

He is the co-founder of the charity Gol Cymru, set up by a group of football supporters that decided to help these children.

“Everyone just thought, let’s give a little something back. You could say it's a drop in the ocean but it’s like we’re leaving a little bit of Wales behind,” Tim said.

They’ve been back five times, and on each occasion they bring equipment and gifts; from air conditioning units to school books to arts and crafts.

As soon as Angelina was given a bag of beads she said to me: “I can’t wait to make a bracelet for myself and all my friends.”

Angelina, nine, is one of the children who have been helped by Gol Cymru, a group of Welsh football fans

Rashad said: ”I’m so happy when they come here. I’m a big fan of Wales. I believe they can be champions.”

I then spoke to the director of the home, Nigar Mensimli, who helped start it in 1997.

“These children are vulnerable and need love. When the Wales fans come here, it shows them that and it has a huge impact."

The Wales fans have had a 'huge impact' on the orphans and vulnerable young children, says Umid Yeri Children’s Home director Nigar Mensimli

This centre is on the very edge of Baku - a far cry from the wealth and gleam of the city but it’s where the spirit of Welsh football is making a difference, and they do it by raising money at events like Pro-Am football matches.

We watched one of them on Sunday. The Welsh gave it all they had against a semi-professional Azeri team, despite it taking them 10 minutes to realise they had 12 men on the pitch!

Needless to say, they lost 3-0, but even the Welsh FA came to watch.

Steve Williams, their vice president said to me: “It’s great that supporters are showing an interest, not only to support our country but to support the nations that we’re playing, so good on ‘em!”

The beautiful game can - and often does - reach far beyond the pitch.

Gol Cymru and its efforts have grown year on year as they visit different nations following their national team. They now help underprivileged kids in 40 different countries.

And I witnessed just how grateful Baku’s children are for their donations. It is support from far beyond their small world. You can find out more about Gol Cymru on their website.