Where are all the British Asian footballers?
According to Uefa B licence coach Rajab Noor, one of English football’s perennial thorny issues has a simple solution.
“We need more players playing and more coaches coaching,” he says when discussing why more British Asians aren’t involved in the professional game.
A lot has been written and said about the lack of Asian players and coaches, and perceptions are still skewed by cultural stereotypes.
‘What is your son currently studying,’ my mum asked her friend a while back. ‘He’s studying to become a surgeon,’ she replied.
‘It’s a very respectable job and he will earn a considerable amount of money. It’s the best decision.’
I have grown up in Asian family but mine have never pressured me into choosing a career path I was not keen on.
However for others in the Asian community, where many place a high premium on getting the best possible education, this isn’t the case.
There are plenty of British Asians playing football at grassroots level, although cricket doesn’t seem to have the pull anymore that it once had.
But why don’t more of them go on to establish careers and make names for themselves at professional level?
The dearth has been blamed on racism in the past, but Noor, a full-time coach studying for his Uefa A licence, believes that times have changed.
“You only have to see statistics to see how few Asian coaches are out there,” he said. “Same with players. Why are there virtually no Premier League Asian players? The talent pool is simply not big enough.
“Look at the amount of Asians playing football. Let’s say it’s 100,000 across the country. If we had more, for instance 500,000, then things would look different.
“Many people may want to point at the FA and point at issues such as racism, but honestly we need more players playing and more coaches coaching.”
Black & ethnic minorities
The 2011 census revealed that Asians made up 7.5% – or about 4.2 million people – of the population in England.
This is in no way reflected by the number of British Asians involved in professional football.
Initiatives such as tournaments to find Asian’s next star have helped increase the number of homegrown Asian players and coaches at grassroots level, and Noor says progress is being made.
“The FA is certainly doing its bit by getting coaches on courses. A lot more are coming through now, more than ever.”
Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) coaches have, he says, been held back by racism within the sport, but things are changing.
“In the past they’ve been neglected,” he admits. “At the same time, I’m just a coach or manager like anybody else. I wouldn’t want to say ‘Look, I’m an Asian coach’. I’ve got to where I am today for who I am.
“I don’t like to blame anybody but I do feel that there’s a lot more being done now, and the Premier League is doing a lot for BAME coaches.”
Examples, of British-born players with Asian heritage who are plying their trade in English football are Neil Taylor at Swansea, Adil Nabi at Peterborough United as well as Northampton Town’s Kashif Siddiqi.
Taylor who is of Welsh-Indian descent as his mother is a Bengali from Kolkata in India, played for Wales at the 2016 European Championship in France and has also been a pivotal figure for the Swans.
But despite his achievements, there is still a very limited amount of role models for aspiring young Asian players to look up to, and this – according to Noor – is a worrying issue.
“The lack of role models is a huge thing. When I’m coaching young Asian kids and I ask them if they know any Asian footballers and they reply ‘no’.
“I think we only need one or two to breakthrough and be on TV and have kids running around with their shirts on their back and wanting to be just like them.
“Until we have that, I think it’s going to be very difficult to inspire the kids of today.”
But, returning to those cultural perceptions, are parents in Asian communities largely apprehensive about and unwilling to see their children pursue a career in football?
The film ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, which came out in 2002, highlighted the issue as an Indian girl Jess finds her obsession with football at odds with a culture which seemingly frowns on women playing sport.
To this day, the stance that many Asian parents have is that football is not the way forward for their sons (or daughters), and Noor, 27, insists this needs to change in order for Asian football to progress.
“It was the same with my parents, they never wanted me to pursue a career in football. They thought it was just a game and they didn’t really understand the industry behind it.
“I think it’s getting better and progress is being made, but I think parents need to be more informed and more educated about the sports industry and how much football has to offer.”
Noor highlights the FA’s latest community development initiative as evidence.
“It introduces football for the first time to children who usually don’t play the game. I’ve set one of them up myself and we have 100 on the register. People turn up each week and they are all new to football.
“They usually play at school or in after-school clubs, but they have never been involved in any organised football.
“More of this needs to happen because once you have a development centre up and running, you can ensure there are more Asian footballers wanting to play the game in the future.”
The future is seemingly looking far more brighter for British Asian footballers hoping to make it big.
More youngsters from the Asian community are progressing in the sport at academy level, while older individuals are keen on coaching roles.
“I want to be a first team coach in a professional set-up, if not the Premier League then the Championship”
“I’m really positive and confident about seeing an Asian footballer or coach in the Premier League,” Noor added.
“We are not far off. I think there’s good Asian players and I think there’s a good number of Asian coaches knocking about.
“I’m a mentor and I have young leaders alongside me and the advice I give them is to do something that they enjoy.
“If they enjoy coaching for example, they will express themselves as a coach. Regardless of any qualification somebody gets, it is crucial to put the hours in on the grass.”
Noor added: “The more hours a person coaches and delivers sessions, the more they will learn about themselves and the more they will learn about their players.
“The important thing is to not be afraid to try and most importantly give it your all.”
The talented coach is hoping to make his mark at the highest level and has lofty ambitions of his own.
“The most rewarding thing in being a coach is seeing a team or an individual succeed. No matter what age group I coach, whether it’s five-year-olds or adults, seeing somebody improve and have a smile on their face during training and on a matchday is very rewarding.
“I want to be a first team coach in a professional set-up, if not the Premier League then the Championship. I want to succeed in England but if that’s not possible, I will look to go abroad, so fingers crossed.”
You can follow Rajab on Twitter @CoachNoor