Just eight players of Asian descent in PL and EFL last season. That must change

SpiritOf1903

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Kamran Kandola only turned 17 last month but already he has a clear vision of life as a trailblazer.

“I hope me and other lads in academies can make a stand now,” he says. “Show that there will be more Asians in football. I want us to start the era where Asian footballers come through and prove we’re just as capable and not be overlooked because of how we look.”

Kandola aspires to go where only a select few have gone before him. Former Newcastle United and Cardiff City forward Michael Chopra has an Indian father, and Zesh Rehman, once of Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Bradford, has roots in Pakistan. Current Premier League midfielder Hamza Choudhury, of Leicester City, is proud of his Bangladeshi heritage.

Kandola, who has lived in the same Tettenhall house his entire life with his Indian-Sikh parents, is in a minority climbing up through the ranks at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but there is a determination to ensure his ethnicity will not matter.

“There’s no reason to not go as far as other players because of your skin colour or your beliefs,” he adds. “It’s easy to think you’re disadvantaged because you’re Asian. The main thing is getting rid of those negative thoughts and filling them in with positivity.

“You have to change your mentality. You should want to be one of the first ones to make it through. There shouldn’t be anything stopping you.”

Kandola chats away as though no assistance will be necessary along a path he hopes will lead to a first professional contract next season, but he can now call upon the support of players he has always considered to be role models.

Kamran Kandola, Wolves
‘There shouldn’t be anything stopping you,’ says Wolves’ Kandola (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images)
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has launched its first Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS) in a bid to address the historic shortfall of a group that makes up 7.5 per cent of the UK population. Just eight players of South Asian descent made first-team appearances across the Premier League and EFL in 2019-20 out of a figure in excess of 3,000 — about 0.27 per cent.

Aston Villa left-back Neil Taylor, born to an Indian mother, and Stoke City’s central defender Danny Batth, son to an Indian father, were among them and both have accepted invitations from the PFA’s player inclusion executive, Riz Rehman, to become mentors to young Asian players.

Already they have begun to share their experiences and challenges with youngsters in academies, swapping phone numbers and exchanging messages. The aim is to offer an open line to young Asian players and their families, as well as holding workshops and virtual meetings.

AIMS forms one thread of a five-year strategy from the PFA to “increase Asian representation in the game”. Long-term plans also include coaching mentors, boosting grassroots involvement and extending support for Asian players in the Women’s Super League.

Kandola bubbles with enthusiasm at the opportunities the project is bringing him. He idolised Batth when he climbed up through Wolves’ academy to make over 200 appearances in the old gold. The 30-year-old centre-back was an ever-present in the side that won the League One title in 2013-14 and then reached the Premier League under Nuno Espirito Santo four years later.

A £3 million move to Stoke in 2019 has seen Kandola gravitate to other defensive favourites, such as Conor Coady and Willy Boly, but Batth’s roots continue to see him stand as a unique role model.

“I’m in a similar situation to Danny, a young lad coming up at Wolves, similar playing styles and position,” says Kandola. “My academy coaches have said there are a few similarities.

“Before, I wouldn’t even have thought about speaking with Danny but the PFA scheme has helped my confidence knowing there are other Asian players coming through and also on the pitch getting advice from Danny. He’s been through the same process.

“You look around and there’s only a handful of Asians you can name but having a connection with Danny, seeing him go through the process, gives you inspiration. You inevitably look up to him. He’s a very good person for me to speak with. He’s always happy to talk.

“It’s also good to speak with other young Asians in academies. We’ve all had our different experiences and journeys, so to share them helps each other out.”

“Kam speaks better than me, doesn’t he?” laughs Batth, speaking to The Athletic from his hotel room on the eve of Stoke’s 0-0 draw at home to Reading at the weekend.

A 13th clean sheet of the Championship season was not enough to end an eight-game winless run but Batth’s defensive discipline was again commendable.

Batth is now closing in on 400 career appearances, with loans at Colchester United, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough adding to his double century in the colours of Wolves.

Danny Batth, Stoke City
Batth, left, celebrates with Nick Powell during Stoke’s 3-3 draw with Rotherham in January (Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
There was once consideration given to becoming an international footballer with India. Batth’s father moved to England from the Indian state of Punjab at the age of 12 yet his son would have needed to live in his father’s homeland for two years to meet qualification requirements.

That was a frustration to Batth, who has worked with children’s charities in India, but his energies are now on helping the number of young Asian professionals to climb.

“It’s so easy these days to be able to pick up a phone or the iPad and sit on a call with young players,” he says. “Kam has messaged me about a few things away from Wolves to improve on and work on. We’re similar positions. It was 10 minutes out of my day, if that, to help him.

“The fact he’s coming to me and asking questions is a positive sign. I can help him. I’ve just got to make sure my advice is good advice!”

The number of Asian players has always traditionally been low in English football.

EFL regulars Malvind Benning of Mansfield Town and Tranmere Rovers’ Otis Khan are of Indian and Pakistani descent respectively and both are also part of the PFA’s latest project alongside Batth.

“Being half-Indian is who I am,” says Batth. “It’s part of my existence and I would like to see more players from Indian or South Asian backgrounds having a career in the game.

“Whether that’s in the Premier League, EFL or non-League, I just want to see more people from Asian backgrounds feeling like they can get involved in sport because football has been so good to me.

“I’ve been lucky to play professionally but even participation on a weekend, seeing those numbers go up, is one of the end goals.”

Would Batth have benefitted from the words of a mentor when he was younger?

“Definitely,” he says. “I was in the academy system from the age of 10 at Wolves. I was the only player in my age group who was of Asian origin.

“I did come to blows at times over various comments but you learn how to navigate that and discover what the best course of action is. As a minority, you’re always going to be the subject of the banter sometimes but when you’re 6ft 2in at 14 years old you can usually handle yourself.

“It would’ve been nice to have someone to bounce off. Say, ‘Someone said this about me today but I didn’t find it funny. What should I do? Should I fight him or pull him to one side and tell him I don’t appreciate saying stuff that?’ To be able to offer little bits of advice will be great.

“Broadly speaking, clubs are increasingly diverse with all sorts of nationalities and ethnicities. Obviously, South Asians are the minority but hopefully, that can change in time. I’d be really proud if we can start seeing more Asian players coming through.”

Rehman, who helped to bring AIMS together, believes young players and their parents have not had the networks within the game to navigate the academy system and also been subjected to “lazy stereotypes” attached to Asian players. “The narrative needs to change,” he says.

The hope is that a corner is slowly being turned. Nine Asian players are scholars with professional clubs this season, including Kandola. The PFA say there are currently 15 professionals of Asian descent across the Premier League and EFL, up from eight last season, as well as the nine scholars.

“With so few Asians in football, young Asians get a little bit cut off,” he says. “You think you’re disadvantaged because you’re Asian.

“I’d love to see the participation of Asians in football go up. Even if it’s just grassroots and Sunday League, I’d like to see more getting involved. I think a lot of young Asian footballers, boys or girls, are put off by the fact there’s not a lot of Asians in the game.

“You can’t use your skin colour as an excuse. You can’t fall back on that and say that’s why you’ve not made it.

“If you’re willing to put the hard work in, every footballer should have a chance to make it. It should be a given that you work at your weaknesses to make them strengths. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re not cut out to be a footballer.”
https://theathletic.com/2374527/2021/02/09/asian-descent-pfa-premier-league-efl/

What's telling here is the number of punjabi sikhs. It's no coincidence, as Sporting Equals chief executive Arun Kang is also of the community, as is Piara Powar, executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) network. These are hugely influential organisations and people in a position of extreme privilege.

It shocks me that players of the quality that Samir and Adil Nabi had, struggle to make the grade. Birmingham has a vast Pakistani community and East London, Bangladeshi - there are strong networks within the latter but it appears racism hinders the Muslim Asian communities harder.

Should it be like this ?.
 
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This is a similar situation to Asian player in cricket I suppose?
 
https://theathletic.com/2374527/2021/02/09/asian-descent-pfa-premier-league-efl/

What's telling here is the number of punjabi sikhs. It's no coincidence, as Sporting Equals chief executive Arun Kang is also of the community, as is Piara Powar, executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) network. These are hugely influential organisations and people in a position of extreme privilege.

It shocks me that players of the quality that Samir and Adil Nabi had, struggle to make the grade. Birmingham has a vast Pakistani community and East London, Bangladeshi - there are strong networks within the latter but it appears racism hinders the Muslim Asian communities harder.

Should it be like this ?.

most british asians i saw when i was younger, when there was more football played around me, were physically dominated by black and white kids, for pace and strength.

there were only one or two asian kids who even came close to the black guys in terms of ability and physicality in my school. one guy from my class even captained england age grade team, so competition was tough.

there's a small minority of british pakistanis who are athletic but pbly see better chances in cricket i guess.
 
I guess different cultures prioritizes different things. As far as I recall Indians/Pakistanis have a higher percentage of representation in doctors, engineers and lawyers as compared to other ethnicities.
 
most british asians i saw when i was younger, when there was more football played around me, were physically dominated by black and white kids, for pace and strength.

there were only one or two asian kids who even came close to the black guys in terms of ability and physicality in my school. one guy from my class even captained england age grade team, so competition was tough.

there's a small minority of british pakistanis who are athletic but pbly see better chances in cricket i guess.

There are local leagues stacked with talented Asians and Pakistanis score for fun at tier 7/8. It's only the sikhs who centralise their talent with clubs like Panjab FC and Albion sports.

Pakistanis are often disparate and cannot create blocs to affect change. Bangladeshis are extremely talented and many have openly faced hostility.

In the football league, there's now Baath, Kamran Kandola, Arjan Khairy, Yan Dhanda, Mal Benning, to name just 5. Otis Khan is a notable Pakistani descent footballer. There was Adnan Ahmed at Huddersfield. Who faced racist chants from his own crowd. Zesh Rehman was often a scapegoat though very decent at the lower level. Uddin, like Otis, is mixed race of Bengali descent but the idea of physicality being a factor is nonsense.

Benrahma is extremely slight, as is Mahrez same then there was Shaun Wright-Phillips and Sterling. I'm sorry, but genetics doesn't hold water as even Gordon Strachan tried claiming Scots were inferior!.
 
There are local leagues stacked with talented Asians and Pakistanis score for fun at tier 7/8. It's only the sikhs who centralise their talent with clubs like Panjab FC and Albion sports.

Pakistanis are often disparate and cannot create blocs to affect change. Bangladeshis are extremely talented and many have openly faced hostility.

In the football league, there's now Baath, Kamran Kandola, Arjan Khairy, Yan Dhanda, Mal Benning, to name just 5. Otis Khan is a notable Pakistani descent footballer. There was Adnan Ahmed at Huddersfield. Who faced racist chants from his own crowd. Zesh Rehman was often a scapegoat though very decent at the lower level. Uddin, like Otis, is mixed race of Bengali descent but the idea of physicality being a factor is nonsense.

Benrahma is extremely slight, as is Mahrez same then there was Shaun Wright-Phillips and Sterling. I'm sorry, but genetics doesn't hold water as even Gordon Strachan tried claiming Scots were inferior!.

cant really talk for sikhs, when i was growing up i was surrounded mostly by bengali kids, who as u say were talented.

will have to respectfully disagree tho, at youth level physicality makes a more pronounced difference than at pro level. also i didnt mention genetics alone, strength and stamina at least could be down to diet and exercise from a young age.

also the fact that the three players you mention are all primiarly wingers makes the point, if your slight of structure youve already got lesser positions youll be suited too, and likely more competition for your spot.

im no expert on football, simply stating what ive seen. theres pbly loads of reasons why brit paks are under represented in the prem.
 
cant really talk for sikhs, when i was growing up i was surrounded mostly by bengali kids, who as u say were talented.

will have to respectfully disagree tho, at youth level physicality makes a more pronounced difference than at pro level. also i didnt mention genetics alone, strength and stamina at least could be down to diet and exercise from a young age.

also the fact that the three players you mention are all primiarly wingers makes the point, if your slight of structure youve already got lesser positions youll be suited too, and likely more competition for your spot.

im no expert on football, simply stating what ive seen. theres pbly loads of reasons why brit paks are under represented in the prem.

Prem is the pinnacle akin to Test level but no reason they can't make it in EFL. There are loads of talented strikers about but they have no organisations or groups that can lobby for them. Adil Nabi should be playing Championship, minimum.
 
I thought Easah Suliman may have made it big after captaining England under 18s but it hasn't happened for him.

Guess there's always Zidane Iqbal at the Man Utd academy.
 
I thought Easah Suliman may have made it big after captaining England under 18s but it hasn't happened for him.

Guess there's always Zidane Iqbal at the Man Utd academy.

Yep.. doing well in Portugal, copped quite a bit of flak from villa fans and the club can't get enough of khairy atm
 
Zidane Iqbal has serious potential.

Classical box to box midfielder and can play as a CAM or as a deep lying midfielder.

Potential is there as a complete midfielder.
 
It will take another 20 odd years for Asian footballers to be accepted by English football fans. Slowly, they are getting there
 
They were saying that 20 years ago..

20 years ago I was growing up playing this sport. We had no chance in the next 10-15 years tbh. The football culture is very racist even if they don’t blatantly show it. Things have changed a lot now. Our kids will grow up in a society that is far more accepting towards them
 
It will be interesting to revisit this thread or the other ones on this topic in about 20 years. In 20 years excuses such as racism or family holding the British Asian Ronaldo or Messi back from chasing their dreams will erode further and further with plenty of 3rd and 4th generation British Asians around not burdened with such afflictions. Will be interesting to see how much things have changed in the British Asian footballing scene by then.

I'm pretty sure that we will get a British Asian football star in the next 20 years but I am also sure that if that does happen the lad will be half-Asian and half-black or white.
 
20 years ago I was growing up playing this sport. We had no chance in the next 10-15 years tbh. The football culture is very racist even if they don’t blatantly show it. Things have changed a lot now. Our kids will grow up in a society that is far more accepting towards them

Have you read the article? There are almost ten Punjabis of Indian descent in the football league and a couple Pakistanis max and Hamza Chowdhury is of Bangladeshi descent from his mother. Clearly it's not affecting all Asians the same, is it ?. Wolves v Aston Villa will soon have two sikhs in opposing midfield, reflecting their huge populations in the cities but where are the Pakistanis ?
 
I'm pretty sure that we will get a British Asian football star in the next 20 years but I am also sure that if that does happen the lad will be half-Asian and half-black or white.

if the trends of the previous censuses are anything to go by a large chunk of british society will be mixed race to some extent in the next 20 or 30 years.
 
It will take another 20 odd years for Asian footballers to be accepted by English football fans. Slowly, they are getting there

Football fans will accept Asian footballers straight away as long as they are good enough. Look at Son from Spurs, he is idolised by the fans. The bigger problem will be getting into top level football to begin with. There has always been a bias for speed and power in the British game, and even if you have those attributes, it takes real dedication and hard work to reach the top. Plus not that easy for Asian kids to fit in with a white dominated culture, would be a lot easier if the game was more mixed at club level. Even in cricket you see Pakistanis forming their own leagues or teams at local level.
 
Football fans will accept Asian footballers straight away as long as they are good enough. Look at Son from Spurs, he is idolised by the fans. The bigger problem will be getting into top level football to begin with. There has always been a bias for speed and power in the British game, and even if you have those attributes, it takes real dedication and hard work to reach the top. Plus not that easy for Asian kids to fit in with a white dominated culture, would be a lot easier if the game was more mixed at club level. Even in cricket you see Pakistanis forming their own leagues or teams at local level.

Bro the South Asian in comparison to the Eastern Asian problem is very, very different. I have always felt this throughout my life experience as a Londoner at least. The level of tolerance towards south Asian culture from the British football culture is far less in comparison to most other ethnic cultures.

And we cannot be 100% certain that Son is completely idolised by the spurs fans and he isn’t subjected to racial abuse. He may be the type who just blocks it all out and gets on with it, just like many Asians in sport.

Growing up in london, I could never see a traditional Asian family making the efforts to get their Kids involved in the black/white lower middle class culture of football. They are poles apart I’m afraid.
 
Bro the South Asian in comparison to the Eastern Asian problem is very, very different. I have always felt this throughout my life experience as a Londoner at least. The level of tolerance towards south Asian culture from the British football culture is far less in comparison to most other ethnic cultures.

And we cannot be 100% certain that Son is completely idolised by the spurs fans and he isn’t subjected to racial abuse. He may be the type who just blocks it all out and gets on with it, just like many Asians in sport.

Growing up in london, I could never see a traditional Asian family making the efforts to get their Kids involved in the black/white lower middle class culture of football. They are poles apart I’m afraid.

That's surprising, I always thought London was a lot more cosmopolitan than the rest of the country, but I guess it depends which part of London. It took a long time for blacks to be accepted in English football as well, it might seem silly now, but Liverpool didn't have a black player for the longest time even when other clubs had them on their books for years. Not that easy to break in, but it will happen once football is accepted more as a profession by Asians themselves.
 
That's surprising, I always thought London was a lot more cosmopolitan than the rest of the country, but I guess it depends which part of London. It took a long time for blacks to be accepted in English football as well, it might seem silly now, but Liverpool didn't have a black player for the longest time even when other clubs had them on their books for years. Not that easy to break in, but it will happen once football is accepted more as a profession by Asians themselves.

From what I have seen, football coaches (year 11 school drop outs) who are usually white or black often look to scout white/black or mixed race kids who’s parents have no interest in them doing well in education and are happy for them to fall back on the benefits of social welfare even if they fail in their pursuit of a professional contract in football.

Being south Asian, you are already up against it because the general view that these coaches have is that the south Asian footballer will not make it all the way due to the physically tough nature of the sport. You could be an exceptional talent at school level, but at some point in the u17, u19 standard you will not make it into the final cut of those who could go on to get a pro contract somewhere. Besides, most kids who will play pro football will have an agreement in principle or pro contract at the age of 13/14 with a professional football club’s academy.
 
Zidane Iqbal has serious potential.

Classical box to box midfielder and can play as a CAM or as a deep lying midfielder.

Potential is there as a complete midfielder.

Awesome talent and another eclectic background. Should be a superstar and United have a track record even in recent times
 
LONDON: Former Arsenal star Mesut Ozil hopes to boost the numbers of British South Asians breaking into professional football after helping launch a development centre in Bradford.

The United Kingdom has a South Asian population of more than three million people, which amounts to seven per cent of the population.

While Britain’s Afro-Caribbean population is well-represented in elite sport, especially football, British Asians are under-represented with only 15 footballers from a South Asian background among the 4,000 professional players.

In a bid to redress that stark imbalance, Fenerbahce midfielder Ozil joined forces with the Football Association and the Football for Peace organisation.

Football for Peace, led by former British South Asian player Kashif Siddiqi and the FA, are co-launching the Mesut Ozil Development Centre in Bradford, which has a large South Asian community.

The centre will run football and life skill sessions at League Two side Bradford City’s training ground.

Several Premier League and Football League clubs have also signed up to the initiative and it is hoped the Bradford centre will be the first of many to open nationwide.

Ozil, a World Cup winner with Germany in 2014, is of Turkish heritage and now plays for Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

“I have always been surprised why the South Asian Community are only allowed to be fans of the game, why are we not seeing more players or managers breaking into professional football?” Ozil said.

“I want to support them, give them an opportunity to be successful both on and off the pitch. I am from an ethnically diverse background and understand the challenges. I hope the Football for Peace Mesut Ozil Centre will become the platform they need.”

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2021
 
LONDON: Former Arsenal star Mesut Ozil hopes to boost the numbers of British South Asians breaking into professional football after helping launch a development centre in Bradford.

The United Kingdom has a South Asian population of more than three million people, which amounts to seven per cent of the population.

While Britain’s Afro-Caribbean population is well-represented in elite sport, especially football, British Asians are under-represented with only 15 footballers from a South Asian background among the 4,000 professional players.

In a bid to redress that stark imbalance, Fenerbahce midfielder Ozil joined forces with the Football Association and the Football for Peace organisation.

Football for Peace, led by former British South Asian player Kashif Siddiqi and the FA, are co-launching the Mesut Ozil Development Centre in Bradford, which has a large South Asian community.

The centre will run football and life skill sessions at League Two side Bradford City’s training ground.

Several Premier League and Football League clubs have also signed up to the initiative and it is hoped the Bradford centre will be the first of many to open nationwide.

Ozil, a World Cup winner with Germany in 2014, is of Turkish heritage and now plays for Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

“I have always been surprised why the South Asian Community are only allowed to be fans of the game, why are we not seeing more players or managers breaking into professional football?” Ozil said.

“I want to support them, give them an opportunity to be successful both on and off the pitch. I am from an ethnically diverse background and understand the challenges. I hope the Football for Peace Mesut Ozil Centre will become the platform they need.”

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2021

Beautiful man.
 
cant really talk for sikhs, when i was growing up i was surrounded mostly by bengali kids, who as u say were talented.

will have to respectfully disagree tho, at youth level physicality makes a more pronounced difference than at pro level. also i didnt mention genetics alone, strength and stamina at least could be down to diet and exercise from a young age.

also the fact that the three players you mention are all primiarly wingers makes the point, if your slight of structure youve already got lesser positions youll be suited too, and likely more competition for your spot.

im no expert on football, simply stating what ive seen. theres pbly loads of reasons why brit paks are under represented in the prem.

And herein lies the problem at youth level football in England. I'm a coach at u9 and u11 level. We had a meeting earlier this year about moving the u10s then from 7v7 to 9v9 at league level and I was the only coach in favour of keeping it 7v7 on a smaller pitch. As soon as you move to a larger pitch the players that have physically developed quicker will suddenly look much better. The smaller players, even the very technical ones no longer compete. It's the total opposite of Spain where the wait 2 further years for the boys to mature before moving to 9v9 and eventually 11v11. Our youth system in this country is still broken despite the efforts to fix it. We still prioritise athleticism over technique. Many kids are dropped from Academies for being too small and this includes many Asians. The situation is improving and I'm hopeful that we see more kids making it over the next 5-10 years
 
So this Zidane Iqbal kid is half-Iraqi? He might have a shot then...
 
So this Zidane Iqbal kid is half-Iraqi? He might have a shot then...

And herein lies the problem at youth level football in England. I'm a coach at u9 and u11 level. We had a meeting earlier this year about moving the u10s then from 7v7 to 9v9 at league level and I was the only coach in favour of keeping it 7v7 on a smaller pitch. As soon as you move to a larger pitch the players that have physically developed quicker will suddenly look much better. The smaller players, even the very technical ones no longer compete. It's the total opposite of Spain where the wait 2 further years for the boys to mature before moving to 9v9 and eventually 11v11. Our youth system in this country is still broken despite the efforts to fix it. We still prioritise athleticism over technique. Many kids are dropped from Academies for being too small and this includes many Asians. The situation is improving and I'm hopeful that we see more kids making it over the next 5-10 years
That's all true but if anything European football has proven size simply doesn't matter and is an advantage given the Spanish style.
So this Zidane Iqbal kid is half-Iraqi? He might have a shot then...

Kurdish I believe. Institutional racism is rife towards Pakistanis in British sport as is prevalent in wider society. Rashid and Ali are huge outliers
 
A friend of mine's son was spotted by scouts of a very well known club in Yorkshire.

He's a brilliant footballer (father Pakistani heritage, mother English).

He along with 3 other lads were asked to go to their academy, train with the academy players of this club and play some matches for the academy side.

My friend's son received rave reviews from the coaching staff, team-mates and was man of the match in 3 out of the 5 matches he played. When it came to offering players contracts, he was the only one out of the 4 who wasn't offered a contract.

The reason the club gave was that he wasn't what they were looking for!
 
https://www.spurs-web.com/tottenham...ining-light-for-many-on-a-dull-day-for-spurs/

Few will remember Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat to Vitesse Arnhem with any fondness after the woeful display last night. Yet it proved to be the stage for a moment far more important than the game itself, the debut of young Dilan Markanday.

With a bench full of academy starlets, Markanday was the only player Nuno felt as though he could trust to head onto the field of play and change the game, which is a statement in itself.


The youngster was given around 15 minutes on the pitch alongside the likes of Dele Alli, Giovani Lo Celso and Harry Winks.

A few moments into his debut, Markanday dropped the shoulder and spun his Vitesse marker to burst in behind, something Tottenham had been lacking for the 70 minutes previous.

However, Markanday’s debut goes far beyond the start of his own career, as he made history as the first-ever British Asian to play for the Tottenham first-team.

In fact, in October 2017, the BBC reported that only 10 of the 3,000 professional footballers in England were British Asian and, in 2019, Daniel Kilvington suggested there were 10 British Asian players out of 4,000.


In 2011, approximately 7.5% of the population in England was of Asian descent, meaning the number of footballers within a group of 4,000 should have been more like 300.

British professional Roger Verdi had to move to the United States for his footballing career due to racism experienced in the UK during his youth days in the 1960s and 70s.

The first British Asian player to feature in the Premiership was Jimmy Carter in 1991, although he chose not to disclose his heritage at the time.

In the Premier League, the first two professional players were Neil Taylor and Yan Dhanda, while the FA promised plans to encourage a better pathway for British Asian players in 2013.

More recently, we have seen Hamza Choudhury make his debut for Leicester in 2017, becoming the Premier League’s first player of Bangladeshi descent, while he also later became the first to score in the Europa League.

In 2019, Adil Nabi revealed he wanted to inspire the next generation of British Asians, just as the likes of Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis had done for black footballers.

Looks a talent in the mould of Nabi.
 
Manchester United: Zidane Iqbal becomes first British South Asian in club's history after Champions League appearance

Zidane Iqbal has become the first British South Asian footballer in Manchester United's history after coming off the bench in the Champions League game against Young Boys.

The 18-year-old trained with the first team on Tuesday, before taking his place on the bench for Wednesday's visit of the Swiss side, with qualification and top spot in Group F already secured.

Iqbal - wearing shirt number 73 - came on in the closing stages of the game, replacing England international Jesse Lingard.

The Manchester-born midfielder, who has Pakistani and Iraqi heritage, became the first British South Asian to pen pro terms at Old Trafford, in April, and is now the first footballer from the community to play for the club.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Iqbal said: "It feels amazing, I've been working my whole life for this opportunity, it's a dream come true, it's just the start and hopefully I can keep pushing on."

Ralf Rangnick confirmed Donny van de Beek and Dean Henderson would both start for United, but gave little away on Tuesday about the rest of the make-up of his matchday squad.

"Even if we may be playing with a few new players or fresh players, it's still important that we win the game," the United interim manager told reporters.

"And, by the way, the first game in this group we lost at Young Boys and so we still need to make up for that and it's clear, no matter which kind of players we will start tomorrow, we definitely want to win the game."

Manchester-born Iqbal has spent more than a decade with United, playing at early years' sessions before joining the club at the foundation phase.

The attacking midfielder is well-regarded by coaches at United and has cemented his place as an U23s regular despite being one of the younger members of the squad.

https://www.skysports.com/football/...ubs-history-after-champions-league-appearance
 
Zidane Iqbal eligible to represent England, Iraq and Pakistan.

Certainly got an interesting name :)
 
Folks Zidane Iqbal the son of a Pakistani father and Iraqi mother made his debut for Man Utd appearing against Young Boys. According to many reports he becomes the first player of South Asian background to play for a major EPL side. Congratulations to Pakistanis and I hope this only encourages more from our community to play for top EPL sides. They seem to have forgotten Hamza Chaudhry formerly? of Leicester.

https://www.skysports.com/football/...ubs-history-after-champions-league-appearance

The 18-year-old trained with the first team on Tuesday, before taking his place on the bench for Wednesday's visit of the Swiss side, with qualification and top spot in Group F already secured.

Iqbal - wearing shirt number 73 - came on in the closing stages of the game, replacing England international Jesse Lingard.

The Manchester-born midfielder, who has Pakistani and Iraqi heritage, became the first British South Asian to pen pro terms at Old Trafford, in April, and is now the first footballer from the community to play for the club.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Iqbal said: "It feels amazing, I've been working my whole life for this opportunity, it's a dream come true, it's just the start and hopefully I can keep pushing on."
 
Although I am a diehard Liverpool fan here's hoping Zidane does well. This will greatly benefit the Pak community too.

 
If they are good enough, they will come through. Enough of this victim mentality.
 
The competition is immense.

The top PL teams only have 3/4 English players starting each game, some less.

But im sure we will see a few come through the academies as we have seen with Utd the other day.
 
https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/12490019/zidane-iqbal-manchester-united-youngster-ran-rings-around-other-kids-says-his-first-coach-stewart-hamer

Zidane Iqbal's first football coach says the teenager was so good when he was younger that he was forced to put him in goal for the sake of the other kids.

Manchester-born Iqbal, whose mother is Iraqi and whose father is Pakistani, made history on Wednesday night when he came off the bench in the Champions League game against Young Boys to become the first British South Asian to play for Manchester United.

Prior to joining United a decade ago, Iqbal played at Sale United under Stewart Hamer, who first began coaching the trailblazer when he was an U5s player.

"When we played a few six-a-side competitions [as he got older] he would do very well. He would stand out," Hamer told Sky Sports News.

"We got to the point where sometimes we would have to take him off the field in fairness to the opposition because he was just too dangerous on the field and it didn't feel fair on the others. We had a process, even in four, five and six-a-side where the kids would play in all sorts of different positions.

"So they all took the part and played in goal and Zee would quite often go in goal for us, and he was happy to do that. I've still got visions of Zee being in goal and leaning on the goalpost, waiting for something to happen!

"But he's just never changed. He's just very focused on his football career. And what happened [with him making his Manchester United debut] was just the icing on the cake so far. But it's only the beginning of the story, hopefully."

Hamer, who spent 24 years at Sale United, added: "It was a great experience just to have him under our care and guidance, and it's just been great to know him ever since.

"It was great when he first joined Manchester United - and to be fair to him and his family, they have kept in touch, right the way up to his United debut, which is good.

"I have seen quite a few of his academy games from when he was a nipper right the way through to his debut. It's just been great to see that development, but he deserves everything."

Official England supporters' group Apna England told Sky Sports News Iqbal's surprise appearance for Manchester United was a great day for football

"This is obviously a proud moment for everyone associated with Manchester United Football Club but it is also absolutely monumental for South Asians in the game," a spokesperson said.

"Zidane Iqbal is an exceptional talent, whose commitment, work-ethic and dedication to making it at the highest level has been rewarded by one of the biggest clubs in world football.

"With urgent action required to tackle inequalities that persist across football, there is no better way to inspire change than by highlighting those that are blazing a trail in our game.

"Seeing Zidane Iqbal out there making history will no doubt inspire millions across the world. It's a great day for the community - and a great day for football."

Sky Sports News last month revealed England face the prospect of missing out on the United teenager, with Iraqi football chiefs keen to secure the teenager's services at senior international level.

Iqbal was called up to play for the Iraqi U23 side at last month's WAFF (West Asian Football Federation) Championship, helping them reach the semi-finals before their elimination to Saudi Arabia. Iqbal also featured against United Arab Emirates, and took the captain's armband before scoring against Lebanon.

He is eligible to represent England, Iraq and Pakistan at international but has never been called up to an England age-group squad.

The teenager netted for the club's youngsters against Sunderland in the EFL Trophy in October, and followed that up by scoring United's opener in their 4-2 UEFA Youth League win against Italian side Atalanta.

Iqbal is one of five British South Asian Premier League footballers on a full-time professional contract alongside Leicester City's Hamza Choudhury, Aston Villa's Arjan Raikhy, Tottenham's Dilan Markanday and Wolves defender Kam Kandola.
 
It's been a rollercoaster 12 months across football, but 2021 will also go down as the biggest year for British South Asians in the history of the English game.

Three Premier League youngsters signed their first professional deals, taking the number of British South Asian footballers in England's top flight up to five, with 16 players from the community contracted across the divisions last season.

Zidane Iqbal and Dilan Markanday hit the headlines after making their first-team debuts in Europe - for Manchester United and Tottenham, respectively, while history was also made in the Sky Bet Championship, in the FA Cup and at Wembley.

The first South Asian heritage England international was revealed in a year that also saw the growth of the British South Asian supporters' movement.

Punjabi Villans co-founder Ricky Cheema said watching teenage British-Punjabi footballer Arjan Raikhy make his Aston Villa debut against Liverpool in the FA Cup was 'amazing'

Villa fielded a youthful line-up after a Covid outbreak forced their first-team squad and coaching staff into isolation. Louie Barry scored a shock opener before Villa were eventually beaten 4-1, with Raikhy starting in central midfield.

As fate would have it, Villa's youngsters would earn another crack at Liverpool at the end of the season - this time in the FA Youth Cup final. Raikhy was named man of the match as he helped steer Villa to a 2-1 win, becoming the first British South Asian player to win the FA Youth Cup since Anwar Uddin with West Ham in 1999.

The 19-year-old signed his professional contract with the club ahead of the current campaign and is currently gaining valuable senior experience on loan at Conference side Stockport County.

Kicking-off in February

The following month saw the launch of Sky Sports' first-of-its-kind South Asians in Football index page, aimed at directly tackling the community's lack of representation in top-level football by shining a light on those making strides in the game.

February also saw the PFA introduce the Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme, aimed at enhancing the experience of South Asian footballers at all levels of the professional game by creating a structured network of support that allows them to thrive.

Danny Batth, Neil Taylor, Otis Khan and Zesh Rehman are among the senior footballers mentoring scholars and emerging pros, with those players, in turn, sharing their academy experiences with their younger peers.

But things turned sour days later when one of Britain's highest-profile South Asian footballers, Yan Dhanda, was sent racist abuse on Instagram after Swansea's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Manchester City.

The abuse came as English football bodies joined forces to send an open letter to Facebook and Twitter demanding action, amid increased levels of abuse aimed at footballers and officials on social media. A Facebook spokesperson said the racist abuse directed at Dhanda was "completely unacceptable".

Dhanda spoke exclusively to Sky Sports News after the incident to express his gratitude for the messages of support from across the community. Britain's first Sikh female Member of Parliament, Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill, called for better support for players targeted by online hate.

"Yan Dhanda has been a trailblazer for South Asians in football and I want to see more South Asians at the top of their game, but if that's to happen we need to deal with the appalling racism they face," she told Sky Sports News.

"For years now social media has been a Wild West where anything goes, and that has to change. The tech giants have summarily failed to act when it has been left to them, which is why we need strong powers and penalties in the Online Harms Bill."

England's first South Asian player

Many have waited decades to see a South Asian heritage footballer play in an England shirt, but many already have without realising it.

In March, Sky Sports News helped rewrite history by delivering the news that Luton Town great Ricky Hill is not only England's fourth Black player, but also became the first British South Asian footballer to represent England at senior level when he turned out for the national team in the 1980s.

Club legend Hill helped Luton win the old Second Division in 1982, featuring in more than 500 games for the Hatters including the epic 3-2 victory against Arsenal in the 1988 League Cup final.

Hill's mother is Jamaican but his family on his father's side are from India. Hill's great-grandparents moved to Jamaica from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

London Bees academy midfielder Roop Kaur does 1,059 lockdown kick-ups for International Women's Day in March
The former midfielder's grandfather, John Hill, was originally named Gurcharan, which was a popular Hindu and Punjabi name at the time.

Hill made three international appearances, with his England debut coming as a substitute in a European Qualifier against Denmark on September 22, 1982.

Ramadan and Vaisakhi festivities

Ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Sky Sports worked with Birmingham City Women to help U16s academy player Layla Banaras launch her Ramadan nutrition guide and meal planner.

Birmingham U16s captain Layla Banaras worked with her club to create a dedicated nutrition guide and meal planner for Ramadan
When Banaras discovered there were few resources available to young Muslim athletes who were fasting during the month, she teamed up with Birmingham City and sports nutritionist Isobel Cotham to do something about it.

The tough-tackling defender, whose role models include Afghan-origin Denmark international Nadia Nadim, said she also hopes to be able to inspire girls who want to make it in the game.

"I don't see many people who look like me, but hopefully I can show them that they can," Banaras said.

"You don't see many Muslim women playing football. I hope I can be someone who they can look up to one day and say: 'Yeah, I can do that'."

Also in April, Sky Sports News broke the news that Sikh-Punjabi brothers Bhups and Sunny Singh Gill were making English Football League history as the first pair of British South Asians to officiate in the same Championship game.


The match took place on April 10, four days before one of Sikhism's most important festivals, Vaisakhi, which is widely celebrated across India and beyond.

Bhups and Sunny are sons of the first turbaned Sikh to referee in the English Football League, Jarnail Singh, and were part of the officiating quartet for Bristol City's Championship clash with Nottingham Forest.

"I always say perception is reality," former referee Dermot Gallagher told Sky Sports News.

"What people see is what they believe and people seeing Asian boys refereeing or running the line in the Championship, possibly in the Premier League - it sends out the message that you can do this, it's there if you want it."

Wembley double

That was followed in May by Sunderland Sikh-Punjabi twins Amar and Arjun Singh Purewal becoming the first South Asian brothers to line up against each other in a Wembley Cup final, as Hebburn Town took on Consett in the FA Vase.

Arjun led Consett out as captain but it was Amar who came away with a winners' medal, opening the scoring in a 3-2 victory for Hebburn over their North-East rivals.

"To play at Wembley, win, and to go home with the trophy is an absolute dream come true. It's been one of the best weeks of my life," Amar told Sky Sports News.

"It's a little bittersweet because I'm gutted for my brother, but I'm proud to score at Wembley. Not many South Asians, let alone Sikh boys have done that. It's a moment I'll never forget."

Arjun was devastated to lose but said he was thrilled for his twin brother, adding: "There's a much bigger picture here and that's giving and showing kids - particularly British South Asian kids - belief that they can also make it in football.

"We need better representation at every level of the game. Amar and I are determined to play a more important part in this push, starting at home in the beautiful North East."

Later in the month, Hamza Choudhury became the first British South Asian to win the FA Cup under the arch at Wembley, coming on as a substitute in Leicester City's 1-0 win over Chelsea.

Reacting to Choudhury's triumph, the first-Muslim member of the FA Council Yunus Lunat told Sky Sports News: "It's extremely difficult and challenging for the South Asian community [in football] but when we have role models like this - and this is a huge moment - it really needs to be celebrated, it really needs to be magnified and used as an example to inspire the next generation.

"It tells them that there are opportunities there by doing the right things. Yes, there are challenges but dreams can be achieved.

"He is a role model for the whole of the South Asian community. It's a huge moment, a huge moment in modern-day football."

English-based duo Marvin Hamilton and Dillon De Silva also had plenty to celebrate after making their full debuts for Sri Lanka, with both also getting their first goals at senior international level.

The end of the season saw Wales international Neil Taylor leave Aston Villa after three-and-a-half years with the club. Fellow left-back Mal Benning was also on the move, joining Port Vale after more than 250 appearances across six seasons for Mansfield Town.

England youth international goalkeeper Rohan Luthra ended his decade-long association with Crystal Palace to join Sky Bet Championship side Cardiff City.

In the FA Women's Championship, Simran Jhamat made a historic move to Bristol City, with Mille Chandarana making a return to Blackburn after a spell in Italy's top division, Serie A Feminine.

Southgate on South Asians

South Asian Heritage Month celebrations in the UK reached fever pitch when Sky Sports News exclusively revealed former Dagenham & Redbridge captain Anwar Uddin was going to become the first British South Asian former player to become a member of the FA Council.

Uddin, who is the first British-Bangladeshi to play professional football, heads up the Fans for Diversity campaign and set up a virtual meeting between Gareth Southgate and official Three Lions' supporters' group Apna England earlier in the year.

Southgate was praised by the group for listening intently and speaking openly during the call, with the England boss later acknowledging South Asian communities have been overlooked in football, suggesting an alternative approach to scouting as one of the measures required to improve representation.

"Sometimes the Asian voice has been lost in the anti-discrimination argument," England manager Southgate said, in the 'Football for Me' FA video series.

"And when you look at the percentages of the population that we're talking about, it's high numbers. Frankly, it's a big talent pool that we're missing within football. It's like in any business. If you're only selecting from a smaller section of the population, then what are you missing?

"We should be looking at how we scout. Historically, there has been a sort of unconscious bias, maybe the perception that some Asian players were not as athletic, they weren't as strong [as other players]. That is such a ridiculous generalisation.

"We've got to be creative [with scouting] in getting into the places where some of these kids might be playing and encouraging them into broader leagues where they can be assessed more easily against other players, to then make that step into the academy system.

"What I've noticed with the England team in recent seasons is that dynamic in terms of the supporters coming up to me has changed a lot, far more Asian people, coming up to me, talking about their pride in the team, talking about the diversity of the team.

"That could only be even more powerful if someone from the Asian community was in the team as well, and we had that greater representation across the board."

The summer also saw Preeti Shetty join Brentford as a non-executive director, becoming the only South Asian woman in a Premier League boardroom.

Sky Sports News revealed back in March that Brentford were taking the rare step of advertising for a board member in their bid to become the most inclusive football club in the country.

After a fiercely competitive recruitment process, Brentford opted to make two ethnically diverse appointments with Deji Davies and Shetty both joining the Board ahead of the club's first season in the Premier League.

Brentford chairman Cliff Crown said: "As we went through the process, it became clear that there were many exceptional candidates interested in the role.

"Preeti and Deji made it to the final round and after the final interviews we could not choose between them. Given they bring different skills, we decided the best decision for the future of the club was to appoint them both."

Ozil vows to help British South Asians in the game
October saw World Cup winner Mesut Ozil add his voice to calls for more opportunities across football for British South Asians.

Fenerbahce star Ozil joined forces with partners including Bradford City, the University of Bradford and the Football Association to open the Mesut Ozil Football for Peace development centre in Bradford.

"I have always been surprised why the South Asian Community are only allowed to be fans of the game," World Cup winner the former Arsenal attacking midfielder Ozil said.

"Why are we not seeing more players or managers breaking into professional football? I want to promote them, give them an opportunity to be successful both on and off the pitch.

"I myself am from an ethnically diverse background and understand the challenges. I hope the Football for Peace Mesut Ozil Centre will become the platform they need."

Markanday makes Spurs debut

Later that month, Spurs' Dilan Markanday made a trailblazing appearance in the Europa Conference League, coming off the bench against Vitesse Arnhem to become the first British South Asian player in Tottenham's 139-year history.


Markanday's achievement has rightly been celebrated as a significant moment for the player, the club and the community, but the 20-year-old Barnet-born attacking midfielder does not want to stop there.

"I hope more and more come through and I am the first of many," he said.

"I hope that lots of British Asians make that step, believe in themselves, back themselves and can come through and show what they can do.

"I hope they all see it and like it and are inspired by it, I hope they keep supporting me, following me and hopefully one of those watching will go on and do it themselves.

"The dream is to play for Tottenham for the next 15 years, playing every game, but obviously I know things might not work out and there are going to be ups and downs. Being around the first team has made me want it even more. It has made me hungry and I want to be in that environment every day for the next 15 years."

Winter warmer

The celebrations continued into November with the Punjabi Rams supporters' group stepping in to become a shirt sleeve sponsor in a landmark deal with Derby County Women. The Punjabi Rams would go on to win the Fans for Diversity accolade at the Football Supporters' Association Awards later in the month.

Wolves technical director Scott Sellars predicted a bright future in the game for Kam Kandola after the 17-year-old put pen to paper on his first contract in senior football.

"Kam is a great representative of the South Asian community in Wolverhampton," Sellars said.

"There is a real shortage of players from that background in football in general, but we want our club to reflect our local community.

"I'd love to think that South Asian kids growing up in Wolverhampton will see Kam as a great role model because he's done a lot of work in telling his story and how it has been for him to get to where he's at.

"Hopefully he'll inspire more local boys, not only those who share his background, to believe that they can do it because they've seen Kam do it."

Shadab Ifthikar then landed the manager's job at Highland League side Fort William, with Sky Sports News revealing the Belgium scout was becoming the first manager of South Asian heritage in senior Scottish football.

The Preston-born former Mongolia assistant manager said: "I was shocked when I heard that. I'm still in shock, to be honest with you [that I'm the first South Asian managerial appointment in senior Scottish football].

"Football has to reflect society. We know it's time for change, we know that different things need to happen in the game.

"We've all got to work together to tackle the problem, and make sure that we continue to fight consistently, every day to show what the beautiful game of football should look like."

Zidane Iqbal: It's a dream come true

The following week saw 18-year-old Zidane Iqbal take to the field at Old Trafford to become the first British South Asian footballer in Manchester United's history.

Manchester-born Iqbal, who has both Pakistani and Iraqi heritage, came on as a late substitute for Jesse Lingard in the 1-1 draw against Young Boys to make his Champions League debut.

Iqbal said: "It feels amazing, I've been working my whole life for this opportunity, it's a dream come true, it's just the start and hopefully I can keep pushing on."

A spokesperson for supporters' group Apna England told Sky Sports News: "It's obviously a proud moment for everyone associated with Manchester United Football Club but it is also absolutely monumental for South Asians in the game.

Manchester United youngster Zidane Iqbal was destined to achieve big things in the game, says his first football coach Stewart Hamer
"Zidane Iqbal is an exceptional talent, whose commitment, work-ethic and dedication to making it at the highest level has been rewarded by one of the biggest clubs in world football.

"With urgent action required to tackle inequalities that persist across football, there is no better way to inspire change than by highlighting those that are blazing a trail in our game.

"Seeing Zidane Iqbal out there making history will no doubt inspire millions across the world. It's a great day for the community - and a great day for football."

SKY
 
Bhupinder Singh Gill will become the first Sikh-Punjabi assistant referee in Premier League history, Sky Sports News can exclusively reveal.

Singh Gill will act as assistant referee when Southampton host Nottingham Forest on Wednesday January 4.

SKY
 
South Asians are easily the most naturally unathletic people on the planet. This is why we could never be good at sports like Basketball, Football, Rugby (obviously, there may be individual excpetions), etc. that require elite levels of athleticism.

At the Olympic a South Asian nation never have and never will develop a world class sprinter, high jumper/long jumper etc (we cannot use the excuse of a lack of funding as African nations are much worse off than us but have produced the most elite athletes in the world).

We do seem to have the ability to bowl fast and we have produced two elite Javelin throwers in Chopra and Nadeem so perhaps we have gifted shoulder flexibility.
 
Bhupinder Singh Gill will become the first Sikh-Punjabi assistant referee in Premier League history, Sky Sports News can exclusively reveal.

Singh Gill will act as assistant referee when Southampton host Nottingham Forest on Wednesday January 4.

SKY

I know people who attend Football League fixtures and one of his recent performances was so diabolica he was universally booed.
 
There are local leagues stacked with talented Asians and Pakistanis score for fun at tier 7/8. It's only the sikhs who centralise their talent with clubs like Panjab FC and Albion sports.

Pakistanis are often disparate and cannot create blocs to affect change. Bangladeshis are extremely talented and many have openly faced hostility.

In the football league, there's now Baath, Kamran Kandola, Arjan Khairy, Yan Dhanda, Mal Benning, to name just 5. Otis Khan is a notable Pakistani descent footballer. There was Adnan Ahmed at Huddersfield. Who faced racist chants from his own crowd. Zesh Rehman was often a scapegoat though very decent at the lower level. Uddin, like Otis, is mixed race of Bengali descent but the idea of physicality being a factor is nonsense.

Benrahma is extremely slight, as is Mahrez same then there was Shaun Wright-Phillips and Sterling. I'm sorry, but genetics doesn't hold water as even Gordon Strachan tried claiming Scots were inferior!.
Sporting equals


https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/av/football/64268354
 
South Asians are easily the most naturally unathletic people on the planet. This is why we could never be good at sports like Basketball, Football, Rugby (obviously, there may be individual excpetions), etc. that require elite levels of athleticism.

At the Olympic a South Asian nation never have and never will develop a world class sprinter, high jumper/long jumper etc (we cannot use the excuse of a lack of funding as African nations are much worse off than us but have produced the most elite athletes in the world).

We do seem to have the ability to bowl fast and we have produced two elite Javelin throwers in Chopra and Nadeem so perhaps we have gifted shoulder flexibility.

its more a recent trend, desis have become excessively sedentary over the last 50 odd years, i mean look at this champ form 1910, pbly one of the top natural physiques of all time

gama2_oozl5__please_credit[palette.fm].jpg

pre partition punjab had a rich tradition of local strength-based athletics (kabbadi, stone tossing, wrestling, etc) and sports which has been greatly lost, in Pakistan at least, dont know about india.
 
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As long as the perception exists that desis can't play football, some talent will be overlooked. My son found it difficult to get into his school team but when I saw him he was just as good, if not better than the guys chosen. Until one becomes a star this stereotype will remain
 
The Sikh footballers making a name in the game

The Sikh footballers making a name in the game

In January, Bhupinder Singh Gill became the first person of Sikh-Punjabi heritage to officiate in a Premier League match, running the line during Nottingham Forest's 1-0 win over Southampton.

Now, a new generation of Sikh footballers are getting into the game, as Harpz Kaur reports for Football Focus.

Watch Football Focus, 12:00 GMT on Saturday, 21 January on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and app.


BBC sikh network more like.

Turns out Pakistanis are inferior after all.

Benning hacked a Swindon player in the playoffs which wasn't a penalty and he then scored in the final. Kismet
 
I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have an Asian football role model growing up. How would that feel? How amazing would it be? To have a brown footballer to look up to and maybe even aspire to emulate. When the hype started around Manchester United’s Class of 92 – winning the FA Youth Cup against Crystal Palace in 1992; losing in the final against Leeds in 1993; one by one making a name for themselves in the first team – I felt a huge sense of pride and emotional investment in them. Of course there tends to be a collective soft spot among fans for players who’ve graduated through the academy, but for me it wasn’t really that.

They were older than me, so I wasn’t going easy on the kids. For me it was more that a lot of them were local. I’d read all about the Busby Babes in the books I’d borrowed from the library and bought for a pittance at jumble sales. I knew that a fair few of them were local lads too. Then with the Class of 92 there was this sudden arrival of similarly local lads in the first team. Paul Scholes was born in Salford; Nicky Butt was from Gorton; and Phil and Gary Neville were from Bury, where I went to school. Even Ryan Giggs sounded like he was from here with his Swinton accent. Granted David Beckham was from Essex and sounded extremely Essex but he had a fanny parting and wore baggy jeans so he was basically an honorary Manc.

A world-famous club like Manchester United had players from places I actually knew and had been to. It made me proud, because a part of me was being represented. If only there was an Asian or Muslim role model like that growing up. A Nassar Butt instead of Nicky Butt, or even a Rahim instead of Ryan. That would have been next-level cool. It’s not like the only thing stopping me from becoming the next brown hope of English football was a role model to emulate – I ran funny because I had eczema as a kid and my asthma was worse than half the Liverpool squad – but it could and would have been the difference for Asian or Muslim lads of my generation who were actually good enough.

You always need one breakthrough, one representative who makes it feel possible for everyone else. For me, it would have done wonders for my pride in myself. It’s not like I was ever apologetic or embarrassed about who I was, but at an age when you’re desperate to just fit in you do get insecure about how you’re perceived by others, especially if how you look or sound isn’t conventionally cool or widely understood. That’s why I was so internally embarrassed when I noticed a Pakistani tinge in my accent after I came home from Sahiwal and went straight into a new school; because suddenly it seemed as if I might be a foreigner rather than someone who lives a 135 bus ride away.

A version of Nooruddean Choudry playing for United – or any club – would have been lionised and looked up to by me of course, but it would have mattered just as much if my white mates were idolising them too. I know such a yearning for external validation sounds desperately needy in an adult context, but as a kid it did matter. Here’s an even sadder version of that: I remember a few of us went to my mate Anil’s house and we spotted a poster of Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit on his bedroom wall. One of our white friends asked who it was. When Anil told him, he replied: “Oh right, she’s gorgeous” – and I was actually a bit chuffed that he found an Asian person attractive.

In the absence of a football role model of Asian persuasion, I had to look elsewhere and find the next best thing. One of the big Pakistani heroes of my childhood wasn’t even Pakistani. Prince Naseem Hamed looked apna, dressed apna, moved apna, and even had an apna-style high fade of the like you only got at Asian barbers where they spelt “haircuts” with a K and a Z. Alas he wasn’t apna at all – he was Arab, of Yemeni descent. But in the absence of a Karachi Kanchelskis or a Lahori Lee Sharpe, there were enough similarities between him and me for the dream to be real. We could definitely have passed for first cousins, if not brothers. We were both short; both Muslim and brown; both working-class and northern; both proud owners of what could be described as a “Roman nose” (via Sahiwal and Sana’a); and importantly we were both southpaws (although granted I used mine to continually draw that pointy “S” in school exercise books, not for fighting).

The one thing Naz had that I didn’t was the part of him I admired the most: fearlessness. In any immigrant community, the first wave are naturally the most cautious and inhibited, and subsequent generations have the luxury to feel more settled and confident about who they are. Naz had skipped around 12 generations and arrived from a future time where cultural insecurity just wasn’t a thing. It was like he was so head over heels in love with himself that your opinion, good or bad, was incidental. The fact that he walked into the ring with the union jack and Yemeni tricolour side by side was a big “oof” in itself, but the brazen confidence to recite the Shahada in front of a sold-out arena full of well-lubricated boxing fans – in America of all places – was beyond anything I’d imagined.

Inshallah United by Nooruddean Choudry. Photograph: Harper Collins
To me and many Asian lads, he was a revelation. We claimed him as our own in an act of brazen appropriation. The fact Prince Naseem was such an outrageous and consistent showboater was obviously going rub certain commentators up the wrong way, but there always seemed to be an extra little edge to their irritation. It was like they were desperate for him to get his comeuppance and be taken down a peg or 10 with a good crack to the jaw. I get that his style was bound to annoy some people, but for those of us who’d had it drummed into us from a young age to keep our heads down, not make waves, not upset anyone, always be grateful, never to rock the boat or draw attention and always remain faultlessly humble, well … it was great to see Naz lording it over all-comers.


Seeing as us Asians aren’t always the biggest, it was a buzz to know that our short king and adopted brother could do fight or flight with the same contemptuous ease. Did it somehow make me harder by association? No. Did it inspire me to hit the gym and emulate my leopard-print clad brethren? Also no. But it allowed me and many others like me to take vicarious pleasure in someone smashing the easy target stereotype. Maybe that’s a little part of why some people had such an impulsive aversion to him.


Inshallah United: A Story of Faith and Football by Nooruddean Choudry is published by HarperNorth on 16 March (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply
 
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