Asian women football fans on the rise

By Akhlaq Hanif The rare sight of a Bradford woman, sporting a hijab, barracking an opposition player during their victory over Aston Villa at Valley Parade in January 2013 sparked a debate on community cohesion and multi-culturalism. However, the under-lying theme of a major increase in participation in football by Asian women, was missed.

The rise of social media has certainly seen expressive feelings of love for one’s football team uttered by a small but passionate section of Asian women.

In my own household during the 90s, my mother and sister were bemused bystanders as they watched their sons and brothers respectively sit on the edge of our sofas, glued to the footballing action developing on our screens.

My sister’s interest in football was restricted to her asking when our teams had won or lost whenever they faced each other – usually attached with a slight chuckle at our most distressing time.

Football became the thorn pricking away at the ladies in the house who would rather have tuned into Asian dramas than twenty-two players running around kicking a football. However in the end, our passion for it faded away any resentment.

Nowadays, there is a beginning of what one can hope to be a more palpable presence of Asian women in football, whether it be through participation, coaching, watching or supporting.

It was the tears of Roberto Baggio missing the crucial spot-kick in the World Cup final in 1994 that was the first memory of football for freelance make-up artist and avid Liverpool FC fan, Safina Kauser.

In a household, which embraced football, typified by her mother explaining the off-side rule to her uncle during an El-Classico match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Safina finds enjoyment in the beautiful game.

Whilst she admits her friends would prefer ‘to go out and paint the town red’, Safina describes the role football has for her, saying: “My idea of a great night in is football and pizza. As teenagers, they purchased Smash Hits magazines whilst I’d read Football Italia, Match and Shoot. I think they just accept it but I don’t talk football around them.”

How did she respond to seeing the hijab-wearing-Bradford supporter in the stands in January at Valley Parade? “I found it liberating and it made me smile. We live in a multi-cultural society so why should football be any different?” says Safina.

Her Twitter account background is filled with club crests from across the world and a brief glimpse into other Asian female fans whose Twitter accounts are decorated with the clubs that they support.

An example would be 19-year-old Sabaa Khalid, currently studying Diagnostic Radiography at Bradford University.

It took the European Championships in 2004 for Sabaa to start to take a interest in football and it manifested itself in subsequent years into support for Liverpool FC. Her Twitter background is her re-creation of a picture of the Anfield club captain Steven Gerrard kissing the club crest.

She describes her experiences of being on Twitter and using it as a vehicle to engage with other fans, saying: “I have had many arguments on Twitter over football, mainly with males who think it’s okay to assume that ‘girls only tweet about football to get attention from boys’ which is totally unfair for the majority who actually do love the game. I love a bit of footy banter though, so I guess it’s good to have rival fans follow me too.”

Sabaa plays down the post-match commentary of the hijabi girl in the stands at Valley Parade, adding: “I honestly didn’t understand the whole drama surrounding it since me and my best friend (who also happens to be a hijabi) went to the Bradford City vs. Arsenal game. I just think people hold stereotypical views on hijabi girls and need to stop being so narrow minded.”

Her thoughts on that have been re-inforced by her own trips to the hallowed arena of Anfield, adding: “It [Anfield] feels like my second home and I feel like we’re part of a big “Liverpool family” as I like to call it.”

The Liverpool FC contingent of supporters is also joined by 19-year-old student Aroosa Munir, who studies BA (Hons) Primary Education with QTS at Leeds Trinity University.

Her love for the game has seen her find a physical embodiment of Liverpool FC on the pitch, like many others, in captain Gerrard. Aroosa admits to being an “obsessed” fan of the England captain.

The passion for football stands out with the words she uses, saying: “It’s a passion that you have throughout your life. It’s amazing going through the highs and lows with your football team, because sometimes there’s no feeling that compares to it.”

Her interest was mentored nicely by her family, who all took an interest in Liverpool.  Aroosa’s rising passion briefly concerned her family but that concern dissipated quickly as they all sit around the box, to watch Brendan Rodgers’ continuing re-brand of the identity of the club unfold.

Having admitted to feeling the magical atmosphere of Anfield during games, Aroosa also weighed into the debate of Asian women watching games from the stands, adding: “Why does it matter if you wear a hijab or not? Watching football is a passion, a hobby, a way of life and religion in its own place. It was stupid and meaningless. Just shows you how narrow-minded people still are in this day and age.”

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