UK Asian Football Championship aims to raise profile of Asians in football

By Imran AzamReporter at Celtic Park
Singh Sabha Slough and London APSA in action at Celtic Park
Singh Sabha Slough (seen in action against London APSA at Celtic Park) were formed in 1977 as FC Lions but changed their name after sponsorship from their local Sikh Temple

Being a football fan in the 1980s was not easy for Asians, according to Jasvir Singh Sandhu.

Originally from Leicester, before moving to Scotland, he would visit Filbert Street "back in the day" to watch his local team.

"The atmosphere, especially if you were Asian, was very intimidating, not very welcoming at all," he said.

"These days I would say the situation has considerably changed and for the better."

On Sunday, he was with his daughter Ria to witness Singh Sabha Slough beat London APSA 6-1 to win the UK Asian Football Championship.external-link

The event, now in its 18th year, aims to raise the profile of Asians in football and encourage debate around barriers to participation.

Seven-year-old Ria took photos to share with the rest of her family, and said she would be telling her school friends about her "exciting time" at Celtic Park.

Jasvir Singh Sandhu with his daughter Ria
Jasvir Singh Sandhu with his daughter Ria at Celtic Park

"I would encourage members of the Asian community to take their children to football," Mr Sandhu added.

"If you don't then how do you expect them to break into the sport?

"I hope to take her to other matches as well. I don't want this to be a one-off."

The UK Asian Football Championshipexternal-link is organised by the Scottish Ethnic Minority Sports Association (Semsa) in partnership with Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Life, Rangers Football Club and Celtic Football Club.

Preliminary games were played at Glasgow Green Football Centre last Friday and Saturday .

Andy Singh, who came to watch the final at Celtic Park with his son Connor, said Asians should give the same priority to football as cricket.

Connor with his dad Andy Singh
Connor with his dad Andy Singh

"Cricket is very time consuming and going to international matches is not cheap," he said.

"My son was pestering me to take him to today's game.

"He doesn't do the same when it comes to cricket."

The competition attracts teams from across the country representing the various diverse strands of Britain's South Asian communities.

The challenge for the organisers is to encourage those watching the showpiece game to attend more matches throughout the year.

One way to attract and increase members of Asian communities to matches would be if players, mainly from Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, were playing regular club football.

However, such a sight is extremely rare throughout the various leagues across Britain - Neil Taylor of Swansea City is currently the only Asian playing in the Premier League.

His mother was born in India, yet many people are unaware of his background as he does not having an Indian-sounding name.

Neil Taylor (seen here in action against Manchester City in the League Cup third round) has also won 35 caps for Wales
Neil Taylor (seen here in action against Manchester City in the League Cup third round) has also won 35 caps for Wales

Semsa president Dilawer Singh said he hoped the event would help raise the profile of the issue.

"Whilst we have yet to witness a breakthrough of Asian talent reaching the professional game, I remain hopeful events such as the championship will retain this rather emotive issues on the radar," he said.

In the past, racial stereotypes and myths purported that a "wrong diet" or a 'lack of physique' prevented Asians from making a significant breakthrough.

Some credence was also given to "religious and cultural" reasons.

However, it is worth noting that last season's PFA Player of the Year - Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez - is a Muslim.

Khalid Pervaiz, London APSA manager
Khalid Pervaiz, London APSA manager, says young Asians need more role models in football

Back at Celtic Park the manager of losing finalists London APSA, said a change of mindset from within would result in real change.

"Look at what Amir Khan has done in terms of boxing," Khalid Pervaiz said.

"Asian parents saw what he achieved by winning a [silver] medal at the Olympics [2004] and from there were happy for their sons follow in his footsteps.

"A 'Singh' or 'Khan' playing at the highest level for a big club would also make a similar impact.

"Young Asians would have someone who shares their names, looks like them and talks like them, so it would be someone who they could relate to.

"Parents would also see football as a relevant career choice for their children.

"They would push and encourage them especially when they are young."

For more information about getting into football, take a look at the Get Inspired activity guide.

More action from the UK Asian Football Championship final at Celtic Park.......

More action from the UK Asian Football Championship final at Celtic ParkMore action from the UK Asian Football Championship final at Celtic Park