|Football Unites supported team, Sharrow United FC, have regularly faced racist abuse playing in the Sunday leagues.
Whilst pioneering black players such as Brendon Batson have blazed a trail for present day black professionals to follow, a quick look around the clubs shows a glaring omission – Asian players.
According to the 2001 census data, Britain has a 4% Asian population, just over twice the size of the 2% black population. Therefore, it would be fair to assume that there would be at least as many professional Asian football players as there are black professional players.
Yet, there are still only a handful of British-born Asian players in the professional game.
A survey for the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in 2004, 'Racial Equality in Football’, found that in the 2003-04 season only 0.8% of under-16-year-old players in FA Premier League club Academies were Asian, compared to around 5% of the population. The actual number of Asian players in this category was 10, but that was just from the 12 clubs that answered this question in the survey.
A 2001 survey, 'The New Football Communities' by Steve Bradbury of the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research found that whilst about 10% of young players aged 14+ in youth academies and schools of excellence were black, only 1.6% of these (estimated at 71 young people in total) were of Asian origin.
In September 2005, the Asians in Football Forum released a report, 'Asians Can Play Football', criticising the football authorities and called upon the FA and Premier League to encourage more players from Britain’s untapped Asian population.
Some of those to make the breakthrough so far are:
Zesh Rehman, who plays for Bradford City and Pakistan. Read all about him on the Zesh Rehman page on this site and on his own website - follow the links from this page.
Michael Chopra who was born in 1983 and is of mixed Indian and white British parentage. The Cardiff City striker previously played for Newcastle, Sunderland and had loan periods at Watford, Nottingham Forest and Barnsley. He played for England at Under-15, Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, Under-19, Under-20 and Under-21 levels, and has played in the Premiership and the Champions League with Newcastle.
Adnan Ahmed, currently with Ferencvaros in Hungary. Ahmed, born in Burnley in 1984, is of Pakistani heritage. He was a member of Manchester United's Academy before turning professional with Huddersfield Town, where he played first team football before joining Tranmere Rovers in 2007. He had loan spells with Mansfield Town and Port Vale before moving to Hungary. He also plays for the Pakistan national side. Read his views on the reasons for the lack of Asian professional players by following this link to his column for Goal.com:
Anwar Uddin, born in east London in 1981, is a defender with Dagenham and Redbridge. He has an English mother and a Bengali father. He came through the famous youth set-up at West Ham, helping them win the FA Youth Cup in 1999, before moving to Bristol Rovers after a brief stint at Sheffield Wednesday in 2002. After loan spells with Hereford and Telford, he joined Dagenham & Redbridge in 2004 and became the team captain.
Winger Harpal Singh had a promising career. He was with Leeds from 2000-2005 and during that time played league football on loan for Bury, Bristol City and Bradford City before moving to Stockport County. He then spent three years playing in Ireland before returning to England in 2009 where he joined his local non-league team, Guiseley.
Netan Sansara was born in 1989 and is an up-and-coming defender at his local club, Walsall. He made his first-team debut in August 2008 and has gone on to represent England under-18s and under-19s. Read more about him in the Times article 'Why are there no Asian football stars?' at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/article3341861.ece.
Look out, also, for Rikki Bains, born in 1988, a defender with Darlington, and Aman Verma, born 1987, a midfielder on loan to Crewe from Leicester.
“There's a talent out there that needs to be embraced, identified, and more importantly welcomed. I think that's one of the big problems. I'd like to see a better commitment, a better contact and network with clubs and the Asian community to make it more welcoming, because there's a talent there. I think this generation want to be professional footballers.”
The Football Unites library has various publications available for loan which look at this issue in more depth. Contact us if you're interested in using them. They include:
'Asians Can't Play Football' by Jas Bains and Raj Patel
'Corner Flags and Corner Shops' by Jas Bains and Sanjiev Johal,
'British Asians and Football' by Daniel Burdsey,
'One Michael Chopra! There's Only One Michael Chopra!', dissertation by Kevin Clark, and
'Ooh Ah Showab Khan' by Arc Theatre Productions.