I don’t consider this to be the million dollar question, however having recently joined Twitter, I have realised more than I ever thought, the number of Asian Muslims who enjoy watching football. I say Asian Muslims, because being one myself, I find this area the easiest one to talk about.
I would just like to pre-warn, that all of this is based on experiences, a lot of it won’t be politically correct but it is what I have found as I was growing up. Some maybe generalisations, for which I apologise.
Ask a male white child what/who they want to be when they grow older, “Wayne Rooney”, “Steven Gerrard”, “Lionel Messi” and similar names will roll of their tongues.
Ask a male Asian Muslim child what they want to be, “Doctor”, “Accountant”, “Engineer” and similar occupations will roll of their tongues.
When the discussions began regarding black managers in football, there were also discussions regarding the lack of professional Asian footballers, either in the lower leagues, or the ‘holy grail’ of the Premiership.
Zesh Rahman cuts a lonely figure as one who champions the cause of British Asian Footballers.
Many people consider the reason behind the lack of Asian footballers to be because parents encourage them towards cricket or general stereo-types regarding the sport, from my experiences and understanding is far more than that.
From a young age, aspiring sports stars attend regular sessions be they after school or on a weekend. I remember from my childhood, this wasn’t always possible. My parents always encouraged me to take part in sport be it at school or recreational when playing in the park/yard. However, organised sport as a club was not something I took part in despite my pleading. After returning from school at 3pm, we would attend the local mosque from 4pm until 6pm, this was from the age of 5 until I was about 11. This meant that the times at which most clubs were run, was out of bounds, but not only for me, but thousands of other families.
My father has always been self employed, and I know this to be true of a lot of friends and their friends, therefore working hours were not 9-5 rather than 6am to 9pm, this meant that there were not opportunities to be taken to clubs after returning from the mosque. Whilst my mother could have done this, coming from a family of six siblings, I was the only one interested in sport, the rest weren’t keen on it at all, therefore it wasn’t plausible for my mum just to take me, again this was an issue across the neighbourhood.
I still remember the day I made the football team, I was in Year 5 and the school agreed to a mixed team because there weren’t enough girls for a girls team. Practice would be at lunchtimes, which suited me fine, except on Friday where it was 3.30 to 4.30, obviously this didn’t suit me fine. Aged 10, and almost ready for secondary school, I guess my parents thought it would be an idea to nip this ‘phase’ in the bud, so I had to withdraw from the football and cricket teams. I still attended cross country twice a week as that always finished at 4pm, so going slightly over time wasn’t a problem. Many of you reading this may consider this to be selfish or crude, in actual fact, looking back now, I am grateful to my parents and totally understand their reasons.
We need to understand that when the first generation arrived to England they suffered huge issues regarding racism, they saw on their TV screen the monkey chants, how difficult it was for the black players to break through, the see the drunken louts, they saw the English football supporters being cannoned with water spray during the Euro’s, they see the rise of Islamaphobia, groups like the EDL and BNP, but most of all they see a massive culture clash in terms of football and their roots due to what they consider indecent going ons splashed on the front page of newspapers.
All parents want the best for their children. They believe their background/upbringing/basic morals and guidelines to be what they want to instil into their children. Ask my parents what they think of football and whether it’s a feasible profession and they would say no.
The reason why there are so little Asian Muslim footballers is to do with culture. Community, family, respect and consistency are key in our culture. Parents see football as a job where, every week you are travelling therefore not seeing your family regularly, every two years you are away for a couple of months on International duty subsequently you are plastered on the front of the Mirror drunken, disorderly and with other women. This clashes massively with the concept of family and respect. Asian parents do not agree with such a life for their children. They consider the parents to be the spine of the family, naturally children will do as they see their parents doing.
The early experiences they had will never go away, they will still feel that there are too many glass ceilings, that football is for skinheads, that their children will be racially abused and not given opportunities to progress. Whilst this may be considered an old mentality, it is what they have seen and experienced therefore will base their childs upbringing on this.
Whilst we as people who follow football know the massive strides the footballing authorities have made to curb racism, have seen Asians, Whites and Blacks on the terraces together singing their heart out for the team they love with not a care for skin colour only the crest on the shirt, one person can spoil it for everyone. The notorious football gangs of Manchester and London, the assumed EDL culture, is making many parents reluctant to take that step.
Becoming a footballer will be seen at the expense of having an education. We see players like Wayne Rooney, who has a handful of GCSE’s, for Asian parents the importance of education cannot be exaggerated because they want their children to have the best jobs in order for them to support themselves and their families when they are older. This is not just academic education, but sport cannot be emphasised over Islamic education, the attendance at mosque is an essential part of the routine of a Muslim child, connecting with their identity and understanding their faith. It is either one or the other, and education will always win.
Communities within Asian families means a lot, it also means lot to see what ‘so and so’ thinks of you, I don’t agree with it, and would love to eradicate it, but it’s an important part. So if your son/daughter became a footballer and subsequently ended up on the front page of the Mirror or Daily Mail, even if they were COMPLETELY innocent, one picture is all it takes. And let’s be honest, the Daily Mail could make a story out of anything. This would have a huge impact on the ‘standing’ of the family in the community.
With fathers working late hours, expecting the mother to take one child to one club, another to another and another to another also isn’t feasible, especially then when you consider these clubs will need to run after 6pm. You will find thousands of Muslims playing recreational football on astro-turfs these days, ask them their day job and a whole list will be read to you. Ask them why they aren’t a footballer, and some of the points raised above will come into play along with ‘Oh, I just wasn’t good enough.’ Practice makes perfect, if the opportunity to practice doesn’t present itself with qualified coaches then perfection cannot be achieved.
- What role can the Asia Cup play?
I am also not convinced that Asian parents are willing to give up their time to take their children to clubs if they ‘don’t see the point’ or see a ‘future for them.’ The rising cost of living and the responsibilities many have to ‘send money back home’ also plays on their mind, consequently football lessons are considered a luxury and not a necessity.
The reasons given such as diet, in my opinion isn’t one that really stands, because someone who is genuinely wanting something they will make the appropriate changes to their lifestyle in order to achieve and become the best they can. Everyone makes sacrifices in different ways. Whilst Asian food is generally ‘fattening’ high in cholesterol and loads of oil, changes are easily made.
I do however believe, that the children of 2nd generation Asian Muslims (i.e., my generations children) will break the mould and become sportsmen and women and footballers, because they are the ones who now attend football games, they play for fun and they will now want their child to have something they couldn’t, which is the opportunity to become a professional footballer. Whilst their will still be culture clashes, the fact our generation understand them better the next generation will be able to fight them better and breakdown the boundaries.
I do realise some of these points you won’t all agree with and seem to have been over thought, but based on discussions with my father and friends these are the points they raise.
Now 25, my parents realise I wasn’t going through a phase at age 11 and that sport would always play a massive part in my life. I was lucky in that I attended an all girls independent school therefore I got to play various sports, captained my school in some tournaments and when I went onto University I was able to play with my friends.
However, having now become a teacher and worked in several state schools, I see another problem rising. Because Asian parents do not consider sport to be a feasible way of life, the teachers are battling with the students to take part in PE lessons. PE was my favourite subject at school, now though, there is every excuse in the book. Stomach ache, kit in the wash, truanting or just down right refusing, subsequently the uptake of PE by Asians at GCSE and further education is shockingly low. This is sadly, especially true for girls. It is not considered a ‘respectful’ job. Although, the massive work being done by the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation alongside Rimla Akhtar is to be applauded. The importance of ‘modesty’ for a young Muslim woman isn’t to be taken lightly, likewise for males, however as a female I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing the current attire. Comments from Sepp Blatter regarding the size of female footballers shorts also don’t help, and then the FIFA ruling on the womens Iran football team compounded opportunities further.
Displaying skills alongside modesty
A book on the experiences of female British Asians in football is also compelling reading.
This issue of British Asians in football isn’t only about Pakistani families, however it is something I felt I could speak about. But also Bangladeshi, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Sri Lanka, Afghan etc… How many British Asian footballers can you name? Zesh Rahman and Michael Chopra for me.
British Muslim Arabs have come a much longer way than their Asian Muslim counterparts in encouraging football to their children, already we have seen several Arab footballers leave the academies of West Ham and Manchester City to go on loan to Swindon and Rochdale, respectively. Maybe we can take a leaf out of their book.
Many felt the rise of Asian Cup would increase the uptake of football, however the core Asian support for football in Britain is from the Pakistani, Indian and Bengali communities, none of who have national football teams to rave about, but superb talent in their cricketing ranks. An area parents prefer to push their childre towards, but a discussion for another day.
Players like Omar Kanoute, Samir Nasri, Bilal Anelka, Mesut Ozil, Nuri Sahin et al, have already proven that being a Muslim and a footballer can work together, hand in hand.
I truly believe the onus is now on this generation to integrate their children further, to encourage them, fulfil their potential and open them to a new world where the possibilities of adapting their culture is very real, through charity work, becoming role models and giving back to the community at large by becoming a beacon for them on a wider stage.
I long for the day a British Muslim Asian makes their debut in the Premiership, I will work with all my heart and all my might that, that kid will be my kid 🙂 I truly believe the next generation WILL make a breakthrough.
You may find this of interest, a study on Muslim football fans their affiliation/identity.
Zesh Rahman, the flag bearer.