With just eight professional footballers of British Asian descent currently playing in the English game, Shafi Musaddique takes a look at the under-representation of the demographic in English football.
“When you represent a club, it is about values and qualities, not about passports”, so a Frenchman once claimed.
To a great extent, Arsene Wenger describes a truth that underlies the world’s greatest game. Yet the Arsenal manager has always been an advocate for community cohesion and identity within the grassroots game. With this in mind, I wonder what he would think about the void that has been under our nose for decades – the startling silence of British Asian representation in football.
After the 2011 census, the Office for National Statistics calculated the Asian population of England and Wales at 7.5%. A significant minority is without a significant presence in the domestic game.
British Asians are fully immersed in British culture and daily life. We work in finance, government, legislature, markets, shops and everything else in between. Children of migrants have grown up with Panini sticker albums, singing “1-0 to the Arsenal”; “You’ll Never Walk Alone”; “Glory, Glory Man Utd” and so the list goes on. And yet, we are hardly to be seen anywhere across professional football.
There are several reasons why. Many parents often tow their children towards a professional line of study and an occupation away from their childhood ‘hobby’. Educational attainment and the expectations of a stable, respectful profession have steered many away from any interest in football.
This has been the case for me too, launching into the unchartered world of journalism with many a furrowed eyebrow thrown in my direction. Someone give me the number of Manish Bhasin.
There’s certainly no decline at grassroots youth level. Every week, young Asian boys – and girls to some extent – play regular football and have done so for a long time. That we are ‘cricket-loving youngsters’ is an anachronism, quash that theory and we could be closer to delivering an important milestone for Home Nations football.
The total number of current British professionals of Asian descent amounts to a meagre eight. Five of these are under the age of 23, plying their trade in the lower ladder of the Football League. Neil Taylor of Swansea and West Brom’s Adil Nabi are the only registered British Asians in the Premier League.
Both the problem and the solution can be found when looking at the bigger picture of our national game. The overhaul of coaching as a hobby, with an emphasis on professionalism; better scouting networks; more access to football pitches and an emphasis on player growth rather than results could all count. By taking the pressure off youngsters and applying a personal touch, it could be an incentive to curb outside pressure to exit the game at an early stage.
Authorities and fans should be concerned. There is anger at the never-ending rise to the cost of watching football, and yet there is silence for an issue deeply related to representation, welfare and football within the community.
We don’t need a Messi or a Ronaldo to emerge, but a role model worthy enough to break through the ranks, earn a place at a top club and become an inspiration for football fans of all shades and colours is needed.
Like a figure in the mould of John Barnes or Ian Wright – that would be a good start. But it must begin – very soon.
You can find all of Shafi’s blog contributions here.