Harpal Singh, Michael Chopra, Zesh Rehman and Adnan Ahmed all have one thing in common- they are the only current representatives of British-Asians in professional football.
Such a low number is staggering for different reasons. Asian people living in Britain today only have to look around to see how many black and oriental players there are in British football.
The aspiring youngsters’ incentive is to become the first Asian to represent England at senior level or to play in the Premiership. Zesh Rehman can claim to have made 21 Premiership appearances for Fulham, and along with Sunderland’s Michael Chopra, they remain the only Asians to have done so. Incidentally, Rehman represents Pakistan at national level and Chopra has played for the England U21’s.
It is noticeable that in other sports, mainly cricket, there are Asians who play for England. Names that spring to mind are Monty Panesar, Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara. County cricket clubs are continuously producing Asian players.
This has led to a theory, which suggests that British-Asians prefer playing cricket more even though football is lived and breathed by a massive percentage of the population.
It must be remembered that the tradition and culture of Asian people is different from others in Britain. Many parents within Asian backgrounds do not encourage their kids to become footballers. However, is football doing enough to attract the Asian community?
You get the feeling that for Asians to seriously consider a career in professional football it will take a long time. It will require someone to break through at a club like Arsenal or Manchester United. Someone of Wayne Rooney’s stature, but Asian, appearing in the news over the next decade could be crucial.
One statistic reveals that in 1996 the estimated figure of young Asian players connected to English professional clubs was a tiny 0.2%; by late 2004 it had barely improved, rising only to 0.8% in academies at Premiership clubs.
Many youngsters from Asian communities want to play professional football and the FA will have to work hard to achieve that goal. Working on developing better links between community departments, academies and amateur teams is a must. This is mainly to win the trust of local Asian communities.
When the clubs are scouting for players it is important to ensure that they are doing so in such a way that equips them to find the very best talent. British Asians are crying out for change. The time has come to make things happen. A footballer’s journey from the playground to the Premiership will hopefully see many more Asian faces on show on Saturday afternoons.
Written By Prashant Bratt