British Asian footballers bid for breakthrough

Amina Qureshi talks to BBC Asian Network's Shabnam Mahmood about her memories of the night and her love of football

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Bradford City's historic run to Wembley - as it becomes the first fourth tier English football team to reach a League Cup final in more than 50 years - has certainly grabbed the headlines.

But one fan in particular has enjoyed global attention.

Fifteen-year-old Amina Qureshi was spotted in the crowd as she watched January's match between Bradford City and Aston Villa.

The schoolgirl was singled out because she wore a hijab.

"At first I couldn't understand why out of 22,000 people the camera was focused on me. But later, as I left the stadium, I realised I was the only girl in a hijab."

While preconceived notions of women who wear hijabs may circulate British society, it is clear Amina defies any stereotype of the quiet, Muslim woman.

Her zeal for football and her unabashed shouting at the match have come as a welcome surprise.

"I made a fist and yelled 'come on Bradford', recalls Amina.

A picture of her from the match did the rounds on social media, even trending on twitter that night.

But it also revealed the power of the game to transcend culture, religion and gender.

"I support Bradford City because this is my town - it's where I was born and brought up," says Amina.

'Institutionally racist'

Football has become increasingly popular among Asian youths, not just in Bradford but around the UK.

Butch Fazal Butch Fazal, chair of the National Asians in Football Forum, says football is still "institutionally racist"

It is clear British Asians are no longer focused solely on cricket, but are now choosing football as their preferred sport.

And community support is important for clubs such as Bradford, whose home turf Valley Parade is located at the centre of the city's Asian population.

Chairman Mark Lawn says: "Our success will bring a lot of supporters in, as well as Asians. It's already great to see so many Asian faces here."

One regular supporter and season ticket holder, Hussnain Ali, says the club's recent achievements have helped the community.

"Bradford's success has brought people from different religions, creeds and colour together, supporting one Bradford".

Many put Bradford's growing Asian following down to the city's first South Asian player and captain, Zesh Rehman, who played at the club between 2009 and 2011. He is seen as a strong Asian role model within the sport.

"Since Zesh Rehman came along, all of us Asians thought us lot can do that as well and be there," says one 16-year-old student.

However, others express frustration that the Asian community is still hugely under-represented in professional football.

There are currently fewer than 10 British Asian players in the professional league.

"The players are on their doorstep. All the club has really got to do is reach out to them" says Butch Fazal, chairman of the National Asians in Football Forum, who has worked with football's equality and inclusion campaign, Kick It Out.

But Mr Fazal feels football is still "institutionally racist".

"Clubs are male, pale and stale," he says, adding they ought to be "connecting with the community" and "representing the UK's diverse population".

Mr Fazal also points to a "growing appetite and hunger for the game" among Asian people, who he says are far more involved in the sport than they used to be.

They go to games, hold season tickets and are getting their kids involved, says Mr Fazal.

But he adds "establishments are not getting them involved" and are not welcoming.

'Break down barriers'

There have been calls for Bradford to capitalise on its success and recruit more British Asians, but it is not easy, says chairman Mark Lawn.

"When they get to 16 they find other things.

"We lost a lad who I thought might make it through, but we've still got a lot of Asian talent playing in our youth teams... so we're hoping they'll be able to progress," says Mr Lawn.

Start Quote

Football is a great way to break down barriers as well as keep fit”

End Quote Khalil Hussain Talent scout

Meanwhile, Bradford Club has increased its work in the local community.

A new initiative has seen members visiting local schools in order to foster more interest in the sport. Children are taught drills and skills.

Khalil Hussain, who became the city's first Asian talent scout, is an inclusion officer at Springwood Primary School - where the majority of children are of an Asian background.

He says the project has certainly "encouraged kids to play football".

"The girls are more keen than the boys and want to compete with other schools," says Mr Hussain.

"Football is a great way to break down barriers as well as keep fit."

Mr Hussain is still looking for "lads to go through to the club" and believes "the next big star could be from Bradford's large Asian community".

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