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Breaking down barriers for British Asians

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Paul Fletcher | 11:28 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

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.

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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."

Zesh Rehman in action for Bradford 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    It is strange that so few Asians are present in the modern game of football given the numbers. I wonder whether the reason behind this is cultural more than a matter of ability.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting article Paul which raises a lot of interesting and important questions.

    Can anyone in the British Asian community tell us how many 'British Asians' want to actually get careers in football though? There's always an assumption it's every young boy's dream to play soccer but it isn't neccesarily so. If we look at the relative population size of many Asian countries like India, there may be interest in following the game as spectators but the competition level is fairly low. It has a lot to do with culture and there are many other sports people are really into. There isn't a massive drive to get most 'Brits' competing in mostly 'Asian' sports is there? Similaraties can be made with America.

    If interest is in Japan the game will grow and we will see more players arriving from that part of the world further encouraging football development in communities that are already here.

  • Comment number 3.

    As a British Asian myself, I can assure you that most of my family/friends who were born in Britain see football (as opposed to cricket) as the main sport. We have heated debates about the major leagues in football and we play regularly amongst ourselves. However, I think many British Asians are put off the procedure of becoming a professional footballer because they are scared that they will be stereotyped because they are Asian.

    I have seen many talented British Asian players in my local area and it is only a matter of time before some Asians break into the top teams. We need people like Zesh Rehman to spread the word so that young British Asians have people to look up to.

    Keep up the good work Zesh!

  • Comment number 4.

    If you are talented enough you will make it. As with everything in life, we need GOOD people, GOOD players, GOOD politicians etc not simply people to make up the numbers. If you have the attitude and skill and commitment you can do it.

  • Comment number 5.

    All credit to Rehman for setting up this foundation, but maybe he should concentrate on his football this season as he is the worst centre half i think i have ever seen!! I am a bradford season ticket holder btw so am a good judge, he is in great danger of slipping even further down the football league ladder judging him this season, and i dont think his foundation would look as good if hes playing in Unibond or BSP!!

  • Comment number 6.

    The lack of British (or Scottish in this case) Asians in the sport has always frustrated me. From a selfish point of view, my club, Rangers are located in an area heavily populated with Scottish Asian families, and over the years, very little interaction has taken place.

    I have a feeling there may be some kind of outreach programme of late, but there is at least a couple of generations of talented kids that lived in the shadow of Ibrox stadium and who were completely ignored by the club.

  • Comment number 7.

    fair play to rehman but agree with above poster he is a rank average centre half at best

  • Comment number 8.

    I'd love to see a much greater Asian presence in football, both on the pitch and supporting their local teams. I say that with some personal interest as my own club, Leyton Orient, badly needs a greater local interest in its fortunes as the vast majority - over 90% - of regular fans travel in from outside the area.

  • Comment number 9.

    I grew up in Bradford and throughout all levels of the game at amateur level there are a great number of Asians playing, naturally some at a higher level than others, but none of whom seem to then take the step into the professional game. Proportionally there should be a much greater representation so its worrying to see this isn't the case. I think this can be partly explained by a cultural difference, but I think there are extra barriers for British Asians to overcome. Good work to all those, Rehman included, trying to break these down. Yeah, and for the record he is a rank average centre half but I guess if he's more than making up for that off the pitch who's to say he won't achieve something far greater.

  • Comment number 10.

    Like all footballers from all backgrounds, there should be the same principle of that you will be picked if you are good enough. However, we should just not focus on one 'background', instead looking at the overall grass roots of British football. Outreach programs are all well and good, but you should not target specific ethnic groups, because that excludes other groups.
    There has to be installed in kids a work ethic which gives them opportunities to play regardless of their background. However, due to the academies focusing more on cheaper 'foreign players', the grass roots football is being affected.
    So, although its commendable that Zech is representing his community, its also important not to label players by their ethnic background. A football player is a football player, no matter where they come from.

  • Comment number 11.

    Rimmer87 - I think Zesh would agree that clubs need to target every area of the community they serve. In our interview he talked about the buzz he gets from helping people of all ages, shapes, sizes, creeds, religions and beliefs.

    However, as a British Asian professional footballer he is, unfortunately, quite an unusual role model. I don't think there is anything wrong with a British Asian player in Bradford trying to tap into the large local British Asian community. Makes sense, surely?

    And Bradford fans - is he really that mediocre as a player? Or has he just had a tricky first season for the club?

  • Comment number 12.

    we british asians do love football but not playing professionally, families prefer they kids to become doctors and solicitors ( funny generalising) and not go into football. the only sport asians mostly play professionally is cricke and you can see that in todays game. there are many british asians who play cricket.

  • Comment number 13.

    Let me suggest something that some won't understand and that others will mistakenly describe as prejudice.

    Most footballers seem to come from working class backgrounds (in England at least). As a result there is a desire and drive to get out of that, which, combined with the skill, sees them progress.

    I would suggest that the family and social environment where many British Asians grow up is quite different to that of most successful English footballers.

    I'm glad that one of the posters above has asserted that they and their friends play and follow football first above the likes of Cricket, and as this trend continues and the social integration continues on both sides, more and more Asian footballers will show through. But it takes time, because we all know that its not merely a lack of ability but numerous other social hurdles that prevent this.

    For example, taking a different sport, I knew someone who was the same age as but far better a tennis player than Tim Henman. But at the time, you needed massive financial support to push on and buy the time to estabilish yourself. As a result, he bailed out, while Tim became the British Number 1.

    Support needs to be given to our sporting talents, whatever creed, colour, religion or background, to ensure they're not wasted.

    Likewise the same with business talents, although at least there are fewer impediments there...

  • Comment number 14.

    According to the said scout, talking in the early 1990s, 'Asians' had the wrong diet to succeed at football
    I wonder what is the right diet exactly and whether Pele & Maradona ate the right foods as children.

  • Comment number 15.

    There are surely many factors which influence young Asian players in to the game, one of which is cultural but from the point of view of role models, the classic chicken or egg thing. We can talk about about the streotypes all day long but ultimatley no has been good enough. Great to see Zesh making strides following some other minor successes over the years but ultimately we have to accept that no one has been good enough to flourish consistently at the top level...yet, can this be accepted?

  • Comment number 16.

    whatever his talents as a footballer rehman is an admirable man. i suppose its hardly surprising that succesful young footballers are more intreested in bling and narcissism than giving something back to the community and to kids who might just be inspired by their presence to push on to the next level. working class players who make it are generally pretty thick, materialistic and poorly educated but it doesnt have to be this way. good for rehman.

  • Comment number 17.

    I understand your point, and I wouldn't disagree with a 'British Asian' footballer being a role-model for their local community. However, as many have stated, it will take a player of Premiership calibre to truly make an impact.
    Young players are attracted to sports people of considerable talent. Wayne Rooney, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Roger Federer are all examples of players at the top of their professional tree inspiring players of diverse cultural backgrounds to play their sport.
    Do role-models have to be players of the same background, or do the top talent inspire players regardless of their ethnic background? Could you could go as far as suggesting that aspiring professionals are influenced by talent and not by their background (Ronnie is a great example with the impact he has had in China, or my personal influence to try and pursue Cricket being the early Tendulkar).
    Yes, it would be great if each culture had players that could represent them in the modern game. Ultimately, as some have mentioned, it comes down to the individual and their desire to be at the top.

  • Comment number 18.

    As a brit-asian myself I can tell you exactly what the reason is for the lack of asian youth development in football. The fear of not fitting in and in some cases racism.

    Say you're an asian lad in part of the country that there aren't many of your ethnicity and you join a team, and head off to play Sunday league. Banter is banter, but isn't it racism when someone calls you a "Paki" from either the players or the crowd watching? A few crunching tackles from some bloke that thinks you should "Go back home".

    This mentality is built in and passed down from parents that had similar experiences, so instead the asian communities form their own leagues, their own teams and stay away from the "White" teams and leagues.

    Don't believe me? Pop down to London, Slough, Reading and take a look at the segregation.

  • Comment number 19.

    I agree with the above poster about potential racism being a deciding factor but I feel it's the families in all honesty in most cases. Footballers' lifestyles are FAR removed from what an ardent Muslim family would want for their son(s). Nightclubs, loose women, alcohol, casual sex, all associated with young footballers, none of which appeal to Muslims. I think a lot of families dissuade their children at a young age by warning them of the immoralities of British culure and footballer's lifestyles.

    As for the racism issue, Im from south wales - a place where until the age of 19 when i went to uni in yorkshire, I didn't rub shoulders with anyone who wasn't a working class, white welsh national.
    However, that is on a day to day basis - our football team used to play against another team from the area who had two Pakistani lads playing for them (and very good players too). There never seemed to be any racism involved and if an off-handed remark was ever made their teammates would back them up til the bitter end.

  • Comment number 20.

    How you perceive racism in football obviously depends on experience. I have played in various leagues in the North East, playing against lots of players of various backgrounds and not experienced this kind of racism you suggest.
    It’s important to identify that a British Asian is not just a Muslim. There are Sikhs and Hindu’s that come inside this umbrella name.

  • Comment number 21.

    I certainly hope that Birmingham "scout" is no longer working in football - a disgusting attitude for anyone charged with identifying talent and encouraging all talented youngsters to strive to achieve their dream.

    Thankfully i'd like to think and hope that everyone in the game today has a much more advanced view.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think one of the reason's that there aren't more Asians in football is a cultural issue. I think Asians (and other ethnics in this country such as Middle and Far East and East African) don't believe they'll be given a fair chance at making it and are scared off by the whole process.

    Also, the traditional way to become a footballer would be to join a club at the age of 9, 10 or 11. Ethnic parents don't really encourage their children to take up football at a young age and so they can quickly lose interest.
    I think this will change as more ethnics are growing up and having children here and so have a more "British way" of thinking.

  • Comment number 23.

    One of the main reasons why there are so few asian proffesional footballers is because most asians in the UK are still in their 1st/2nd generation. They usually want their children to go through a traditional profession through education. They disregarded and discourages a profession through sports, youngsters did not get the support from parents.
    But now the 3rd/4th generations of asians in the UK, who were born and bred here, have differed views..
    So once we start having kids and as they get older, i can firmly assure you there will be a lot more asians in the scene.

  • Comment number 24.

    Lots of good, solid, sensible debate, with plenty of different ideas flying about.

    Obviously there are no absolutes that can be applied across all cases and I reckon that some of the ideas - racism, a parental emphasis on their children's education, British Asians playing more for the love of the game than as a career - will apply to different people in different circumstances.

    What I would say, and this is purely anecdotal, is that the British Asians I know really love their sport.

    In the same way that certain black role models led the way 20 or 30 years ago, people like Viv Anderson etc, I think that role models for British Asians are important.

  • Comment number 25.

    nabz103 wrote: Pop down to London, Slough, Reading and take a look at the segregation.


    Unfortunately, nabz103 is correct on this, I have witnessed quite a lot of this in these areas' local leagues. Sadly, voluntary segregation by forming community clubs such as these - no matter for what reason ie. forming an all Sikh team due to percieved prejudices only seem to make thing worse and certain negative opinions and stereotypes become more entrenched. I've seen players from different communities who were really good friends at school and out, come to blows on the pitch because of this 'tribal''s crazy.

    Also, while these clubs might give young players opportunities to play when they are young they themselves maybe unwittingly breed further contempt for the rest of the league and make it nigh on impossible for fairly decent skilled players to intergrate and flourish at higher levels..they soon become discouraged and lose interest.

  • Comment number 26.

    Paul, he is that bad, i admire him for doing this but seriously, kids watching Rehman this season will not learn anything. 99 % of Bradford fans do not want him here next season as we are going to be pushing for promotion, its just a shame he has another year on his contract. Its a regular occurence for our "captain" to be subbed off at half time our like at the weekend after 60 minutes. Totally inept.

  • Comment number 27.

    As a QPR fan I have to agree with some of the Bradford fans - Zesh is a pretty mediocre defender. I don't mean to knock Zesh too much as he's obvioudly a top lad, but it's alarming that someone struggling in the lower leagues is left to represent young Asians in football. The reason that more do not make it to the professional ranks is puzzling. Despite Rehman's best efforts, the likelihood is that we won't see anyone really capture the imagination of young Asians until we see a top class player of Asian descent break through. This will simultaneously help to break down the barriers that some of these young players face. Racism almost certainly plays a part.

  • Comment number 28.

    Interesting article, I'm from Glasgow and now live in the USA where I was playing soccer on a scholarship at college. I play regularly here in Ohio with a mixed group of foreign lads and many of them are from Asia and the Middle East. Arabic is actually the main language spoken at the game. Its a solid standard, much better than the 'pick-up' games I find at home. One of the best players is actually from Pakistan, I was shocked by this as growing up I honestly knew no decent Pakistani players, and that's in Glasgow where there is a large Asian community. It really is a wonder why they're are not more Asian Pro's. Asians are just as talented as any other group, look at Amir Khan and Prince Naz in the boxing world.

  • Comment number 29.

    One thing I'm impressed with is the fact he plays for his country despite them being very low in the rankings.

    I recall one British-Asian player (Chopra) who refused a call-up because his agent said it wouldn't help his career. You should play for your country because you are proud of who you are and where you're from, not because it might help your club career.

  • Comment number 30.

    I think to say Cricket dominates the Asian communities is wrong as Football is considered in the same high regard. I think the problem is with the grassroots level, where not enough asians are playing in the right level of competition to be scouted. I don't think there is really a agrument about racism as this country has shown that if you have the right attitude and talent you will make it, you just need to look Boxing and Cricket to see that asians have excel in those sports. As a asian myself, I think too many are happy to play with there mates and not challenge themselves by playing at a higher level.

  • Comment number 31.

    I live in a city with a very large South Asian (Muslim, Hindu, Sikh) population, and the youngsters are well into football and cricket, even running their own leagues. Once a year, the various Imams from the local Mosques organise a football tournament for Muslim youngsters (under-10s, under-12s and so on) and the final match is between two teams of Imams!

    One or two very talented youngsters have had trials with the local (Championship) side, but were, ultimately, rejected. The other issue is that most parents would prefer their kids to concentrate on getting to Uni than commit their kids to footballing careers, not least because it is such a short career. At the end of the day, footballers in the lower leagues don't get paid anywhere near those in the Premiership.

    I've always felt that one of the many reasons Nicolas Anelka didn't fit-in at certain clubs was because he had become a Muslim. I have heard that he prefers not to socialise with team-mates for this reason and has therefore been cast out by managers as a loner.

    The South African First XI cricket team has a Muslim called Hashim Amla, known affectionately to Essex fans as "W.G." in reference to W G Grace. ( This cricketer has taken a lot of stick in South Africa for "playing whilst Muslim", and particularly for refusing to advertise a local brewery on his shirt (he managed to get the said Brewery onside).

  • Comment number 32.

    i don't think it matters at all in the modern day, where your from or what colour you skin is. End of the day, i believe you could be black, white, brown, or pink with green spots. If you are good enough you will get picked / noticed.
    For example, i cannot see a club uncovering a player, who for the example of this debate is Asian and has real potential to make it in football, turning a blind eye or being less likely to sign him because he is Asian (or black or white or whatever).

    If a club had the chance to sign the next Ronaldinho or Messi, is anyone really naive enough to think they would turn that chance down in the modern game purely because of the colour of someones skin and, or his religion? I highly doubt it.

    Football teams today, the world over are a mix of black, white, Latin, African and even Asian players no matter what the country. Even in old Communist Russian outposts where racial equality probably isnt promoted as much as over here, you still get black players and foreign players of different ethnic skin colours to people from that country.

    Clubs simply dont care what colour or race players are, its all about making money and getting the best players they can.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    Although the scout referred to in your article clearly had some backward reasons for dismissing the player's potential, your conclusion, which seems to imply that somehow he's ended up with vast quantities of egg on his face, is rather wide of the mark.

    Rehman has made it as a pro, and that is an achievement in itself as it's hellishly hard to do. He's no doubt picked up loads of money in his career, so he's been very successful in that regard. But he is a League Two player and, from the reviews of Bradford fans above, a mediocre one at that.

    Encouraging people from all backgrounds to participate in sport is a laudable thing, and credit to him for his community work. But it's silly to build him up into something he's not. That scout was wrong to reject Rehman for the reasons he did and Rehman's proved him wrong by making something of himself. But let's not get carried away: in terms of talent, he hardly made a monumental error.

  • Comment number 35.

    It's fair to say that there are few areas where British Black and British Asians have both had even proportionate success - black people are over-represented in football and popular music, Asians better represented in science, politics and cricket. Boxing is one of the few exeptions, but even then in largely different classes.

    An average British Asian is at a physical disadvantage, but the cultural factors are probably even stronger. Asian communities tend to pride themselves on a strong work ethic and desire for education and betterment, which sport rarely fits into. Cricket seems to culturally be a special case.

    Thigns might be about to change though. The first wave of British-born Asians now have children themselves, hopefully they will encourage their children to shine at whatever they show interest and ability in. Perhaps we can look forward to seeing a British Asian succeed in the Premier League in the next 5-10 years. Clubs will surely be keen to find a role model, especially those with large Asian communities nearby.

  • Comment number 36.

    If this was white player doing charity work.. nothing would be said.

  • Comment number 37.

    I do not think that this is a problem unique to British Asians alone, here in South Africa in the 20 years since re-introduction to international sport only 2 players of Asian descent have represented the South African Cricket team, this despite cricket being the most popular sport amongst Asians.More emphasis is put on school and academic performance with sport a distant second.It will probably take a few years yet before the attitudes of Asian parents change enough to see that a careers in professional sport are more achievable than before, players like Zesh, Owais Shah and here at home Hashim Amla are the catalyst for that change.

  • Comment number 38.

    One_Mars_Melvang - I think that my problem is the grounds on which the scout dismissed Rehman's chance of making it. Not sound, would be my conclusion.

  • Comment number 39.

    re:, U14443931

    I have read article about Bellamy chairty work as well as Carragher, it not like this is the first article ever written about a footballer doing something for the community or charity. This article is about breaking down barriers for a under represented minority in football, which was being discussed.

  • Comment number 40.

    I notice that several people assume racism whenever a particular ethnic group is under represented in any profession. I used to play cricket quite seriously and was informed by a senior figure, in the cricket establishment, that they struggled to get Asian's involved in Yorkshire cricket because many Muslims wouldn't play in non Muslim teams. I know of a case where a rugby coach was trying to involve some asian kids in an open rugby training session, and was stopped when an elderly Asian man called the children away, and told the coach that "Rugby is not our sport". Don't assume that racism and stereotyping only operate in one direction. The white middle class are under represented in professional football, can they claim discrimination? In fact Englishmen who can string a coherent, articulate sentence together are under represented in professional football (where coherent, articulate English seems to be confined to the foreign coaches!) As for racism in football, the treatment that the likes of Clyde Best and Albert Johansen had to contend with, is thankfully long gone. The only time a English Black player is subjected to racist abuse, is when they are playing in Europe or for England, and the abuse comes from the opposition fans - a situation that Uefa and Fifa refuse to tackle.

  • Comment number 41.

    If English sports were nurtured at colleges and universities as in America, we'd probably get a lot more Asians in professional sport. Asian parents ensure their kids get in Uni -- that's reality and can you fault them?

  • Comment number 42.

    Re: stracepipe

    Oh here we go. Complaining about 'several' people bringing up racism, when that's not at all the case, misconstruing the few people who did bring up that issue, and of course the inevitable 'what about us lot?' comment. Let's break this down shall we?

    Five people (out of 41) mentioned racism, of this only two, nabz103 and Clear & Present Ranger, suggested this as a factor, and the other three argued against. At any rate, you seem to have misunderstood those two people's comments; they weren't stating Asian footballers aren't present in football due to racist scouts or coaches, but rather suggesting one of the reasons they weren't entering the sport is due to racism present at lower league level amongst players/supporters. How much of this is true I wouldn't know, and I actually even disagree with this, but let's not confuse this with Asians claiming discrimination at whatever opportunity available.

    In answer to your question, yes, if the white middle class for some bizarre reason want to claim discrimination for being under-represented, then they have every right to. Are you suggesting that because they are middle class or because they "can string a coherent, articulate sentence together" they are more likely to be be put off pursuing a career in football? Because that was the reason given by the person who did bring up racism as an issue, and hence who you were replying to.

    Your two anecdotal pieces of 'evidence' is simply laughable. Firstly, everyone here has so far mentioned cricket as being the sport where Asians are being represented well so I have no idea why you're claiming Asians aren't involved in cricket. Your second story about some old man calling children away and saying "Rugby is not our sport" (?!) is all rather bizarre. Was this happening in a school or a park - are scouts allowed to start teaching sport to random kids without parental consent? how old were the kids? who was this old man, their parent or guardian? If not, why the kids were listening to this old man is more of an issue here. And of course, what an excellent idea to use one old Asian man's comments on rugby as an indication of why Asians aren't represented in football... Great thinking there.

  • Comment number 43.

    Quite Frankly Rasicm is not the issue - The reason why there are not many British asians in sport is down to the mentality of parents. For Asian parents first and foremost the priority is education. I am saying this from experience as I myself happened to be a very talented sportsman when I was younger excelling in various sports. I was even encouraged by my teacher at school to pursue sports further who felt I had the potential to play professional Football and Cricket however this is where the parents come in with all the talk about being a lawyer etc. If someone told me I could play professionally but to had to endure a few hasty chants I wouldnt think twice.

  • Comment number 44.

    i'v seen so many young british players who are amazing.. one of my mates played along with zesh rehman.. and until this day is wondering why has'nt he made it as a pro.. the guy is definatly a championship side standard as i saw him play against sheffield united in a trials game he was bossing the pitch but i wonder too why he has;'nt made it.. its sad the truth is alrdey known..

  • Comment number 45.

    I taught Zeshan at secondary school. Like most obviously talented young footballers, he didn't suffer the "Sunday League" racism as discussed. He was too good. He was with a pro club (Fulham) all through his teenage years - who wouldn't even let him play for his School Team in his late teens, (never mind facing pub teams on a Sunday morning.)
    As I recall, he wasn't that bothered about missing out on the school team- except he was keen to sneak on for the staff v students game just before he left.
    Nice lad, and considering he'd signed a pro contract, still had a good attitude in his lessons.

  • Comment number 46.

    As a kid growing up in the 1990s, there were no Asian footballers in England. There were a few black players and some very good black players (john barnes, michael thomas, luther blisset a bit earlier, obviously you had pele in the 60s and 70s).

    But football was never considered good enough for a lot of asian parents. My parents for one encouraged me to do school work and if i asked them if i could play football with my friends for their clubs they would often say no.

    Why was this? because religious school fell on a saturday.

    However when i took up cricket aged 11, they had no problem with me doing it, and i was taken out of religious school to concentrate on cricket. Im now 29 and playing local cricket for my team.

    i also think now there are more opportunities to play football being Asian. People can see the "money" that is being thrown at the game and everyone wants a piece of the pie.

    I agree that it doesnt matter what race or relgiison you are anymore, if you are good enough you will get scouted and given a trial at top clubs. The fact that someone in League 1/2 can now earn upto £40k a year inc bonuses, is more than the national average.

    When i eventually have kids, im going to get them involved in all sports - football, cricket, rugby, swimming, tennis, the lot and once they find a sport they really enjoy, encourage them to take it further.

    Fair play to Zesh, its a shame he never got to play at a high level for more of his career.

  • Comment number 47.

    Its funny as Asians are for more into football than their African and Carribean counterparts, but dont seem to be picked for teams. I am Asian and have Black friends, whom though support teams, have little interest in going to games.

    Our parents have always been more supportive if we wanted to play cricket but I think that is changing, as even the older generations show more interest in football.

    Its all rubbish about diet, size, etc to play football, as it is one sport which doesnt require to be a certain stature. Also West Indian food is just as heavy as Asian food. I also have some English friends who are good footballers, but were considered too small at school to be put forward for trials. So this proves that there a size prejudice at the school level, regardless of race. In that sense, most Asians are small made.

    It will change and more Asians will play professionally. it just takes time.

  • Comment number 48.

    @ Martin: 9:40pm on 06 May 2010

    Well written and spot on about everything you said.

  • Comment number 49.

    why are posters saying its a shame he hasnt played at a higher level?

    his race or background has nothing to do with the fact he has been bradfords worse defender this season has it?

  • Comment number 50.

    It seems Mr Rehman identifies that he is slipping into footballing obscurity by the year. This self publicising maybe a way of setting up an alternative career to football seeing the lack of Asian football correspondants within the media as a possible way in. I agree that there is a plcae for this, but think Zesh could possibly concentrate on his full time job of being a professional footballer 1st.

    If he was producing the goods on the field, then sure, no problem. The sad fact he isn't, and is probably the highest paid player at the club, and possibly within that division (Barring Notts County)

  • Comment number 51.

    46. At 1:28pm on 07 May 2010, karim1981 wrote:

    I agree that it doesnt matter what race or relgiison you are anymore, if you are good enough you will get scouted and given a trial at top clubs. The fact that someone in League 1/2 can now earn upto £40k a year inc bonuses, is more than the national average.

    And the rest son...Blue Square players are on around £1k a week. Some leeds players will potentially be on around £10k per week, with £5k per week players common in league 2.

    £5k per week = £26 000 a year, a lot more than the national average

  • Comment number 52.

    Good article.
    The more that is written on this area the better. This should then raise awareness to the problem of the under representation of Asians in football. As Zesh says, football is a great way of integrating society and bringing diverse communities together and that is the reason why Asian success in sport (especially football) is imperative.
    It is not coincidence however that Asains have fared poorly in football as there are numerous 'barriers' which have caused this under achievement. However, what has happened is that a series of common sense rationales have emerged in an attempt to explain this under representation.
    These include physicality E.g. Asains are stereotyped as being too weak or lean to play contact sports as well as being afraid of the cold weather. Others include perceived cultural difference such as Asians simply do not like football or Asian families disapprove of the game.
    Thus, with more players like Zesh coming through, thus more role models, this should effectively break down these 'barriers'.
    Studies have shown that football is very popular amongst British-Asian communities, especially Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani youngsters. Thus it is wrong for some people to assume that because there are so few playing professionally, it is not popular within the Asian community, hence generalisations such as 'they all play cricket' are heard.
    There are countless further 'barriers' including social segregation. Now, there are Asian only teams and leagues that have been set up and this may not help the cause. Perhaps they have been established because of the threat of overt racism in amateur football?
    To sum up, football needs more positive role models such as Zesh to spread the word that Asians can play football! What we need is an Asian Wayne Rooney to break onto the scene - this would hopefully dispel problematic stereotypes and myths that surround Asian players.

  • Comment number 53.

    it is weird that there is still such a deficit, in fact it amazes me. There are loads of good asian players you see at school and playing five aside so I can only assume it's a cultural thing - but maybe in a good way - i suspect there is a strong emphasis on education within asian cultures that pushes kids away from sports to business and medecine - and that's pretty sensible.

  • Comment number 54.

    I was born & bred in Bradford, and indeed it has a vast array of ethnicities & nationalities. As i'm sure many will know, Bradford has a high population of Asians, specifically Muslims. Personally, i've not got a problem with anybody's religion or creed, but one thing i've always noticed in having lots of Asian friends is that whilst they enjoy football (and the vast majority of my Asian friends prefer Football over Cricket) they won't attempt to go professional for a few reasons.

    #1) The obivous one of being stereotyped as a "British-Asian", when in fact, they're British, forget the "Asian" part, those born in THIS Country, are as much British as anyone else, regardless of their heritage.

    #2) Lack of support for the Asian Community, in Bradford it's higher than many other places, but still not enough, but the same could be said for all Community aspects of Football. Bradford get involved a fair whack with the Community, but nowhere near as much as Bradford Bulls (our Rugby League team) do, maybe taking a leaf from the RL Club's ideology would help?

    #3) A few of my friends didn't go any further than Sunday League due to Football not being a "classic Asian occupation". Most are expected to go to University and gain qualifications etc.

    It's a shame in all honesty, many of my Asian friends are more talented than their white/black counterparts, so it's sad to know they're less likely to go into Professional Football.

    It's not just the Asian Community that needs strengthening, it's the WHOLE community. I'd love to get my 4 year-old son involved, but despite sending e-mails to the local clubs at the BEGINNING of the Season, i've yet to hear a response from Bradford City, Bradford Park Avenue, FC Halifax Town, Huddersfield Town or Leeds United. Pretty poor Community Assistance in my eyes . . .

    Well done to Zesh though, a cracking player, who deserves all the plaudits he gets, hopefully that will include a League 2 Promotion next Season under Peter Taylor (what a coup for City!)

    Good luck to the Bantams next Season, and of course, keep up the great work Zesh!

  • Comment number 55.

    I guess in this modern age it does not matter too much what colour the players are but it is good to see Zesh helping the community to try to encourage more Asian kids to get involved. Coming from Derby (an area with a high population of people with Asian and Caribbean backgrounds) i know having worked in coaching at youth level that there are many young Asians who interested and enjoy playing football. There was one who was offered a youth contract at Derby but rejected it because he wanted to focus on gaining qualifications before possibly moving into football. Now that had nothing to do with his background it was just a career choice that he thought was right for himself.

  • Comment number 56.

    One of my closest friends is of Pakistani descent and I played Sunday League football with him on a few occasions. Never once was he subjected to racial abuse of any sort, when you're on the pitch you're just another player.

    I agree with the posts regarding cultural differences as being one of the main reasons a lot of British Asians are not more involved in football. The parents want their children to have a long and successful career and unfortunately football is a 'high-risk' area in terms of becoming a success.

    I live in Burnley and it seems that the Asian community deliberately segregates itself away from the rest of us, possibly due to potentially corrupting influences (alcohol, loose women, etc) and definitely due to outright racism. I have no problems with that and I respect people who are staying true to their beliefs, but it is proving to be devisive and breeds distrust.

    Until people (and I mean everyone) are willing to set those barriers aside and respect one another for who they are rather than their ethnicity, religion etc, it will be difficult for many British Asians to progress in football. Which is a damned shame, because if a lot of the lads around here made it professionally, the Pakistan national team would shoot up the world rankings!

  • Comment number 57.

    As with most issues, the lack of British players of Asian descent (lets get that right from the outset) is more complex than simply 'cultural issues'.

    It's an easy stereotype that British Asians are more interested in Cricket etc, and that they just aren't 'up for it' but it's a more deep rooted issue in the English (British?) game that's the problem.

    Although I don't doubt there are still misguided individuals who base their decision to not promote B. Asian players on racial grounds that isn't a strong enough reason why so few make it in this day and age.

    No, it's more down to another reason that effects ALL young players of whatever background, but in particular B. Asians.

    The English scouting/coaching system.

    I've played against sides made up of 90% B. Asian players in the past, and it's always, without fail, been a pleasure. The reason? Because (despite some of my own team mates giving them good cause) they were always restrained, never dirty and played good quality, individual passing football.

    It astounded me after playing these teams, that since then none of them ever made to even trials. Yet some of my less gifted team mates did at several major London sides.

    The reason being, I suspect, is just that, that Asian players are stereotyped as 'too individualistic' or as a scout once famously said to a friend of mine who scored seven goal in a trial 'you're too clever by half'. He wasn't signed up.

    It's this mentality, which and ever decreasing number have overcome in the last thirty years (just think how few English 'ball players' there are the top level any more?) that probably prevents their progress as much as anything else.

  • Comment number 58.


    I am Asian and I ate, drank and slept football as a youth in the 90s. I will list a few reasons why I did not take it further. These reasons may apply to others.

    Weather - I was out on one weekend in freezing weather waiting to get onto the field. My teacher did not put me on and I hated that weather. Maybe my teacher did not have faith in me because I was quiet. Or perhaps it was because I was one of the very few Asians at that school at that time.

    Technique - A couple of years later I started studying teams like Brazil, Italy and Holland. I tried to imitate their style but I had trouble fusing it into the more direct British style. It frustrated me when my teammates could not do what I wanted them to do. Maybe if I was born 10 years later I would have made it.

    I will list a couple of reasons I think Asians (including Chinese, Thai, Filipino etc) have not made it.

    Academic achievement - Asian parents prefer their children to succeed at studying rather than sports.

    Psychological - Asian children tend to be relatively quiet and reserved so that has to be a part of why they would not want to be part of football culture.

    Culture - I think the older generation could not take 22 men running around a field chasing one ball and getting muddied seriously. Doing sports such as cricket and martial arts do not require one to get muddied.

    Integration - Asians have not integrated in British culture enough. Can you imagine seeing an Asian father on the sidelines encouraging his child? When we see integration and interaction like that we will see Asians succeed in football.

    I have a cousin who was on Chelsea's books around 20 years ago but his parents wanted him to focus on his career. When the Premier league was formed and they noticed the money came that came with it I could tell they regretted their short-sightedness.


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