Football, famously known as ‘The Beautiful Game’ has been a platform to bridge gaps and differences; however, since the foundation of the F.A. in 1863 not one British Asian footballer has managed to claim a place in the 23-man national squad. To add to this, there are currently over 3500 professional footballers in England. And only 12 have an Asian background. That is not even enough to complete a match-day squad.
A famous myth is that there are simply not enough British Asians. However, this is wrong as British Asians amount to 7% of Britain’s population. This is roughly just over 4,500,000 citizens.
This may seem like a tiny figure in comparison to 65,000,000 but the population of Black citizens is only 1,900,000. With less citizens black athletes have cemented respectable careers in professional football. Also, British Asian footballers have dominated Amateur football as there are less players in the amateur game from White British backgrounds.
Lack of Interest
Dr Stefan Lawrence proved a common stereotype wrong. A recent study revealed that British Bangladeshi boys play football more often than their White peers. Why isn’t this quota mirrored at a higher level?
Furthermore, when you take a visit to your local park or 5 a-side pitch, you will see large amount of athletes from Asian descent.
Does the cream really rise to the top?
The finger then points at the family. Many experts argue that British Asian kids are more likely to live in poorer conditions. Prominent analysts such as Dr. Stefan Lawrence concluded that these families may put pressure on the youth to seek a secure source of income. They may view football as more of a leisure-related activity.
While this argument may be true, Football prides itself on being a game for the working class, creating the most inspiring rags to riches stories. These experiences have also helped change opinions on football. More families can see a career path thus the athletes receive more support.
Then the question arises, how can white and black players from similar backgrounds make it to the very top yet the Asian players struggle?
If the problem isn’t hidden in the demographic, lack of interest nor their family backgrounds, then where is the flaw?
Where do the problems lie?
The English press ruin the reputation of British Asians, allowing people to call them ‘weak’ and ‘frail’. This came to the limelight when Dave Bassett, former Leicester City manager, stated, “The Asian build is not that of a footballer”. When influencers like him remain in football the chances of success for British Asians decrease as their views spread to all areas of a club.
As a result, uneasy atmospheres are created which led to the birth of leagues just for Asian players. British Asian footballers were ostracized.
While this permits players to feel more comfortable, athletes from Panjab F.C. have admitted that they have never seen a scout at their game which instantly stunts the growth of all participating players.
The media plays a crucial role in creating prejudice towards the athletes and it also fuels Racist ‘Banter’. One issue that was never addressed was when a team stretched on all fours and the Captain of the group said,”Guys are we doing it right, we have to be facing Mecca.“.
The coaching staff, scouts, and directors have been widely influenced by misconceptions. The hostile atmospheres force players to change leagues. These new leagues, act as a cul-de-sac for players with untapped potential.
However, to put all the blame on the media will be criminal as cultural and religious differences can also contribute to the lack of progression.
For instance, a story of an anonymous British Pakistani footballer revealed that the players would visit strip clubs and often hang out in pubs which both conflicted with his beliefs. This creates an outcast like emotion for the player. The player and the team instantly lack vital chemistry.
The light at the end of the tunnel
‘Bringing Opportunities to Communities’ was launched in 2015. This was the first organisation to tackle the issue and promote British Asians in football.
Additionally, one of England’s most successful youth institutions, Chelsea F.C., launched the Chelsea FC’s Asian Star Initiative. This was for kids aged 8-12 with an Asian background. They offered the participants a 12-month contract with their prestigious academy that has had the likes of John Terry, Loftus Cheek, etc.
To help engage with British Asian youth, an F.A. representative announced that they will be signing an “Asian Champion” to the governing body. They hope this will raise awareness for British Asians in English Football. In addition, they have created a short film which features BSA (British South Asian) athletes Lucinda Lawson, Yan Dhanda, Lisa Rashid and Riteesh Mishra.
To deal with Islamophobia in football they have put forward players like N’Golo Kante and Sadio Mane. This helps show that religion and football can be mixed.
British Asian Role Models
Leicester City star, Hamza Choudhury, gives the British Asian public a much-needed role model. He may be the change in England’s professional game. The promising performances with the Foxes, may earn the player a place in the national squad.
We may be witnessing the longed change in British Asian football.
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