Thousands of fans rise up in support of player facing exile

The Watford midfielder is appealing against deportation to Sierra Leone

Thousands of English football fans yesterday staged a show of solidarity for an African player threatened with deportation back to his war-torn homeland.

The Watford footballer Al Bangura made an emotional half-time appearance at Vicarage Road to thank fans for their support in his fight against deportation to Sierra Leone after fans staged a protest against the Home Office decision during the game with Plymouth Argyle. Fans held up posters showing the midfielder's face under the words "He's family".

Bangura, who arrived in the UK four years ago, was told last Monday that his application for asylum had been rejected. The decision to deport the 19-year-old, who became a father two weeks ago, sparked a furious protest from the club, with an appeal backed by players' unions.

Elton John and former home secretary David Blunkett have also joined the campaign to force a change of heart. The MP Clare Ward told fans that they could support the campaign by signing a petition via the club's website. The Watford manager Adrian Boothroyd said: "We are trying to raise as much awareness as possible."

Bangura said: "I am praying every night that the Home Secretary will review this and allow me to stay. I'm here, I have my family and my job... I'm happy to be here. I see this as my home."