Zesh Rehman against Liverpool: The first British Asian to debut in the Premiership
Ex- Fulham and now Bradford City defender, Zesh Rehman is launching a foundation to bring the game to the large British Asian community. The focus is on developing kids to take up football as a profession and beyond that to contribute to the game in its various capacities.
Rehman was the first Asian to play for a Premiership club when he turned out for Fulham against Liverpool in April 2004. He was also picked up for England’s U20 squad but as opportunities for the national team faded, he decided to represent Pakistan, the country of his origins.
Football seems to have bypassed the community at large. Michael Chopra is another name that crops up but these names are few and far in between.
Walsall’s Netan Sansara plays for England’s U18 and he talks about the difficulties of an Asian playing a sport that seems to suffer from problems ranging from racial stereotypes to little parental support.
Jas Bains, a sports academic wrote scathingly on the lack of British Asian representation in 1996 and a decade later in his follow up dossier he sees little change. Less than 1% of the hundreds of children in Premier League academies are Asians. The original report was ironically titled “Why Asian’s Can’t Play Football.”
In Daniel Burdsley’s British Asians and Football: Culture, Identity, Exclusion, the author talks about the opportunities the game provides for forging a British Asian identity. However there are potential pitfalls.
“The central paradox is that the game of football is a key social arena for intercultural dialogue and exchange, and an arena for British Asians to articulate their identities, but it is also a social space that is met with some of the most severe forms of discrimination.”
One has to move the subject of participation from the realm of social anthropology to where it really matters: On the pitch. That is why Rehman’s work needs to be encouraged. You can visit his site to learn more about him and his work.