These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Colour Blind

Published in the Ryman Premier League match v Harrow Borough 10th Decmber 2005

I got completely lost trying to find Harrow's ground last season, and after a few too many beers managed to get lost on the way back from the ground as well! But at least I could get something decent to eat as the high street was packed with amazing Indian vegetarian food. During half time I spoke to one Harrow supporter who said most people in the area don't even know Harrow Borough existed. How comes? The club is surrounded by houses and many of these are now owned by Asians – so why not try and get some Asians to start supporting the club? Easier said than done? Well, what about trying to find if some of the Asian kids are good enough to pull on the Harrow Borough shirt?

Trevor Brooking recently said that the experience of Asian footballers is similar to what happened to black players in the seventies, and Premiership star Andrew Cole backed him up. Black footballers of today have the likes of former stars such as Brendon Batson, Viv Anderson and John Barnes to thank for paving the way for them, playing in front of hostile crowds and monkey chants.

Brooking and Cole reckon that Asian footballers will only make the breakthrough when they have someone who they can identify with, and Cole has backed former team-mate Zesh Rehman to be that man. British Pakistani Rehman has come through Fulham's academy, and is already an England youth international. Cole said "Zesh has got a very level-head and the times I have spoken with him, he has never mentioned being one of the first Asians to make it in the Premiership but I am sure it has played on his mind. But it is going to be so important for all the young Asians out there who have not got someone of their own colour to look up to. And I believe that he can be a pioneer who changes things because I think it is only a matter of time before he gets through at the top level."

One reason Asian players haven’t broken through is often blamed on their parents – and Rehman agrees "I think the main reason that a lot of British Pakistanis don't make it as footballers is because they don't get enough support off their parents. A lot of our culture revolves around education and I think a lot of parents are wary of their children getting too involved in sport”

Meanwhile one man who helps run youth football in Harrows patch complained “I help out with a North London U15's team in the Harrow Premier League and we have two outstanding Asian players. Sadly both players have to lie and argue with their parents to train and play. To this day after two years I still haven’t met their parents or have seen them support their talented boys from the sidelines.”

With Asian leagues full of thousands of players, some of the league organisers also point out the lack of footballing scouts that come to the games. But a couple of Asians are playing at a higher level. Newcastle’s Michael Chopra and Harpal Singh at Leeds United, Shahed Ahmed who used to play for our mates Wycombe, Huddersfield’s Adnan Ahmed and former West Ham defender Anwar Uddin.

Meanwhile two Asian clubs have entered senior football. Sporting Bengal and London APSA made history this year when they became the first all-Asian teams in this year's FA Cup. One of their players Suroth Miah said "Our participation in this year's competition is truly a historic moment for the Asian community in this country. We want to take the whole community forward by being successful and push Asian players into mainstream football.”

Sporting Bengal United was established in 1996, formed by the players themselves, who went on a tour of Bangladesh and subsequently got talking about the lack of Bengalis involved in local football. The club was awarded senior status by The FA in 2003 and subsequently admitted into the semi-professional Kent Senior League, the side have made giant leaps to challenge the under-representation of Asian youths in mainstream British sports. London APSA complete in the Essex Senior League.

Obviously players have to be good enough, but once the gates open, then it won’t be long before the sight of Asian players in football is as common as black players. For teams like Harrow and Slough with large Asian populations, this could mean not just a source of new players but increased crowds, and some of the Asian population of Harrow could start to discover that there is a friendly little club just at the bottom of their street. But this won’t just be good for football. As Mike one of the West ham coaching staff put it “I think football, without wanting to sound like an old romantic, is one of the few things that can truly bring people together from all backgrounds and realise not just there differences but also there similarities.”