Breaking down barriers for British Asians
Bradford City captain Zesh Rehman was just 11 when he was told in the harshest terms possible that he would not make it as a professional footballer.
Ironically, he was at an open day in Birmingham aimed at encouraging youngsters to play the game when a scout delivered his damning verdict.
According to the said scout, talking in the early 1990s, 'Asians' had the wrong diet to succeed at football, didn't like the British weather and, in any case, much preferred cricket.
"That was the motivational fuel I needed to try to prove this man wrong and to try to open doors for the next generation," Rehman told me. "It became a mission from that day on."
A year after being told to forget about a career as a professional footballer, the 12-year-old Rehman was given renewed hope by a Fulham scout.
He took a different view of Rehman's abilities and persuaded the youngster to relocate to London with his family in order to join the club's academy.
The defender progressed through the ranks, making his first-team debut as a 19-year-old in a League Cup match against Wigan in September 2003. After a loan spell at Brighton, he returned at the end of the 2003/04 season, playing in a Premier League match against Liverpool.
Frustrated by a lack of regular first-team opportunities at Craven Cottage, Rehman eventually joined QPR in 2006 before moving to League two side Bradford last summer after stints on loan at Norwich and Blackpool.
Rehman had seven managers in two chaos-ridden seasons at Loftus Road and firmly believes he would still be at the club if he had been part of a more stable environment, but he is convinced that he can climb back up the divisions.
An Urdu-speaking Pakistan international, Rehman had hoped to begin the long haul back this season. He even gave up another chance to play for the Greenshirts to concentrate on helping Bradford win promotion from League Two. Sadly, the gamble did not pay off and the Bantams will end the campaign in mid-table.
Despite an up-and-down time on the pitch, one theme has remained consistent throughout for 26-year-old Rehman's career - his involvement in community work.
A cursory glance at his website provides a vivid illustration of how seriously he takes the business of encouraging youngsters of all ethnic backgrounds, ages and genders to play and watch football.
A list of his official partners runs along a banner at the bottom, while a list of his 'firsts' as a Pakistan/British Asian player takes up a substantial chunk of the page.
I met Rehman after he was named Community Player of the Year at the Football League awards in early March. I think it is an award of tremendous merit and importance, recognising and rewarding efforts that are above and beyond events on the pitch.
"I believe players have a massive role to play within the community and can impact upon a lot of people," said Rehman. "Young people are the next generation of fans and, hopefully, players. Some are at a sensitive stage where they might stray off the right path."
Rehman joined Bradford from QPR last summer
The community work that Rehman does, visiting schools, colleges and youth groups, as well as acting as a mentor on the Duke of Edinburgh and Mosaic schemes, is particularly relevant at a club like Bradford.
The Bantams may boast average attendances of more than 11,000 - comfortably more than any other team in the division - but they still play their home games at a half-full stadium. Like every other club in the lower reaches of English football, they face the task of ensuring their local fanbase is not seduced by more fashionable and successful sides.
There is also a large Asian community in Bradford - and Rehman is honest enough to admit that was a factor in deciding to sign for the Yorkshire side.
"I had a couple of options in the league above that involved a better financial package but I opted to come here, firstly for the football but also because of the opportunity to engage with the community," he said.
Since his arrival at Valley Parade, the club has acquired an Asian sponsor and Lut Rahman has joined as Bradford's first Asian associate director.
Rehman reckons he has noticed a slight increase in the number of British Asians at Bradford home games, too, but believes there is still a lot of scope for improvement.
Nonetheless, the likeable Rehman reckons that he is stopped in the street more and more often and feels understandably proud that he is increasingly becoming a role model that members of the British Asian community can relate to.
"In football, there are good and bad times and it sometimes feels like a lonely battle," he told me. "But there are things that get you through. For me, they are the prospect of opening doors for other people.
"If, in 30 or 40 years, there is a sprinkling of Asian players at every club and I can say that I had a small part in making that happen, then that for me would be success. I would settle for that all day long."
Rehman believes football is a way to helping Asians integrate into mainstream society, yet he believes he occupies a position of privilege and has a responsibility to break down barriers in all sections of the community.
He plans to launch his own foundation in Bradford with the aim of giving youngsters from all religions and backgrounds the chance to come together through football and has been taking advice off his friend, Blackburn striker Jason Roberts, who has already set up a foundation of his own.
Such is the diversity of Rehman's community work that there were times during our interview that I almost lost sight of the fact that he is still at a relatively early stage of his playing career. And he is hopeful his most successful years lie ahead of him - both on and off the pitch.
Rehman cannot remember the name of the scout who wrote off his chances of making it as a footballer all those years ago, nor can he accurately recall what he looks like. But he would like to see him again and show him what he has made of his life.
I suspect the scout would be pretty impressed.