PFA member and Show Racism the Red Card Sessional Worker Anwar Uddin reflects on the progress of the wider football community on furthering the involvement of Asian players and fans.
About Anwar: Still only 30, Anwar has amassed over 250 career appearances and became the first British Asian player to captain a side in the Football League. His former clubs include Bristol Rovers, Dagenham & Redbridge and Barnet. He is currently playing in the Conference South and is a Show Racism the Red Card Sessional Worker.
Throughout my career I have kept a close eye on the progression of Asians within football across the UK.
At first I stood alone but was shortly followed by Zesh Rehman and Michael Chopra and all of a sudden there was a buzz about the topic.
Clubs and communities were actively encouraging Asians in football and with the use of us as role models and clubs realising the potential of the large untapped talent pool on their doorstep, I like many thought the conveyer belt would burst into action.
Sadly that was not the case and although numbers of grass roots players have increased in fact currently in the UK Asian grass roots football is thriving but the transition into mainstream clubs just hasn’t yet materialised.
The millionaire dollar question why?
Well first of all every boy born wants to be the next Rooney and your competing against the rest of the world so it's no mean feat. So regardless of who you are (nationality, race or skin colour) it's extremely competitive. It's a slower process but I firmly believe that the conveyer belt is up and running, just slower than anticipated.
Furthermore just as the Asian family has integrated and become part of the British culture families are now encouraging and supporting their children in the pursuit of a contract at Arsenal or Manchester United which is different to when I was growing up. I’ve noticed first hand with the football academies I run in London, parents want to do everything in their power to support their child which goes against the old saying that we all want our kids to be doctors or lawyers (although I do hope my son becomes a lawyer!).
One thing that I have noticed, which on the surface is fantastic is the development of Asian football leagues, Asian summer schools and Asian academies. This is great for an initial education but there is also a risk of the becoming too insular, it's always nice to be in a comfortable environment among friends but to be the best you have to venture into the unknown. The talent is there the desire is there we just need a little help and luck and Asians will be represented on and off the pitch in and around the circumference of our game.
Increased participation within football does not lie exclusively on the pitch. I feel clubs all around the country need to encourage the Asian community into their grounds and on to the terraces, in addition there needs to be an understanding that there may be a little fear or intimidation. Clubs need to do all that they can to make it a safe pleasurable experience.
Years ago the number of female fans and children in football were low but have increased dramatically, so have the number of Asian fans but there is room for so many more.
When I went to my first game the abuse I heard made me question if I wanted any part of this sport. It's different now and with the work that we do at Show Racism the Red Card people should be encouraged by that knowing we all want the terraces to be a place where we can enjoy football and all the players agree with the support for our campaign.
In the recent BBC Documentary ‘Is Football Racist?’ by PFA Chairman Clarke Carlisle, I learned of the Punjabi Wolves which are a great example of Asians getting involved conquering the fear and implementing a little of their culture into the club, they are a group we can all take heart from. It's the best place to be if you’re a football fan so nothing should stop you and clubs should do all they can as well as fellow fans to make it comfortable for all.
Positive role models can undoubtedly use their position to engage with fans, when the number of role models is low it’s so important we take pride in the few we have across the board. The power and influence they have is hugely underestimated and it is a powerful tool that can be used to push many in the correct position.
You only have to look towards the Asian music scene, it is something I have been extremely proud of! The UK has embraced our music, you just have to look at the charts or go to a concert to see that. There have been Asian icons making music in all sorts of genres and I feel it's so important we embellish our icons and they use their experience and success to reach out to all their fans whenever possible.
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