What Football Means To Us: A British Asian Perspective
The question of why there are so few British Asians in football has long been on the agenda, and rightly so. But there are success stories to talk about now too. In this extensive dive into both the good and the bad, Aadam Patel heard five of those stories and answers the question, what does football mean to us?
What does the game mean to me, a British Asian football fan? The same as you, probably. It’s a passion. A hobby. An escape. And it provides a sense of identity. That indescribable feeling of belonging. That pride in your city. It’s a constant in all our lives.
And perhaps now, finally, football can fulfil our career dreams too.
The numbers within the professional game make for tough reading: there are just 10 British Asian male footballers out of approximately 4,000 professionals in the UK. Despite British-Asians making up 7% of the population, just 0.25% of professional footballers are from a British Asian background. The numbers within the women’s game make for even tougher reading.
Facts like these can deter and destroy the dreams of so many before those dreams even get a chance of becoming a reality. Do we really stand a chance in this industry? Is a career within the sport made for people like me? Is football even made for us?
But while addressing the issues must continue to happen, let’s flip the narrative and celebrate some of the success stories and hope that they can act as a catalyst to inspire the next generation.
Times are changing. Maybe not at the pace we would like, but changing nonetheless. Whether at professional level playing and coaching the game, within sports media, or those making moves within the inner lifeblood of the game in grassroots football, the game is now scattered with stories of hope for those from Asian backgrounds.
“The truth is there is mass Asian participation in football on a variety of different levels. From playing the games in their thousands to travelling around the country supporting their favoured teams… British-Asians, be they young or old, rich or poor, male or female, have either dipped their toes or fully immersed themselves in the dynamic waters of the modern game.“
It’s crucial to understand that mass participation is already happening. Football is a key part of British-Asian culture, and British Asians are now genuinely a part of British football culture, whether that be within the sport as a career or as supporters following their teams around the country.
We interviewed five influential British Asians working in football to celebrate their stories and delve deeper into their experiences and thoughts on what else must happen.
Here is what football means to us, through the lens of Hamza Choudhury, Seema Jaswal, Anwar Uddin, Manisha Tailor and Maz Pacheco.
Hamza Choudhury, 24, is a midfielder for Leicester City. At the time of writing, he is the only British-Asian playing in the Premier League. Choudhury has made over 70 appearances for Leicester and has also represented England at youth level. He is arguably the most well-known British-Asian within the game.
There’s a lovely video that did the rounds on social media shortly after Leicester City won the FA Cup last season, showing the welcome Hamza Choudhury was given by locals as he and his family returned home following the Foxes’ win over Manchester City at Wembley.
It beautifully captured not only what football means to Hamza but also to his community.
Growing up, I've always wanted to be a footballer and always wanted to see a South Asian footballer player in the PL (even more so a Bangladeshi). This video is so wholesome and makes me feel so proud to be a British Bangladeshi. Representation is important.@HamzaChoudhury1 pic.twitter.com/go7ZuPCMbV
— Mr ST (@stammer_teacher) May 16, 2021
“Football’s everything to me. It’s been such a dominant thing in my life. I can’t imagine what life would be like without it. It brings so much happiness to me and my family,” Hamza tells me.
For the FA Cup victory was a moment not just for Hamza but for all involved in his remarkable journey. He is quick to acknowledge that reaching professional status requires a level of immense sacrifice not only from yourself but from the people around you. The importance of family to Hamza in his journey to the Premier League is clear.
He talks about the numerous sacrifices that his family would make, like rushing home from work to drive him from Loughborough to Leicester during rush hour three times a week and the countless journeys around the country in his youth.
Amusingly, he mentions how he was regularly late for training. After all, this was a family without any prior understanding of what is required to make it in the game. It’s as much an achievement for them that Hamza has made it that it is for the man himself.
“For my family, it was the first experience in any sort of professional sport, but without them I wouldn’t be where I was or anywhere near it,” he says. “We’re really close and I guess we celebrate each moment in my career together as like an achievement for us all.”
One of the key themes throughout our conversation is Hamza never making any excuses for himself. It’s a mantra that his mother gave him and something that he still lives by. It’s driven him throughout his journey. His story is one of belief that he was always going to make it, regardless of what came in his way.
Going into football was an alien experience for the family, but for Hamza it was always a case of doing whatever it required to become a footballer. Being a footballer is all that ever crossed his mind.
“Growing up, I felt like it was the same for me as anyone else. My mum used to tell me from a young age to not give anyone else an excuse and to not make any excuses for myself. For me, it was a case of working hard and believing in myself.”
Perhaps it is partly due to the diverse culture within the city of Leicester and the sense of comfort at the club that Hamza and his family felt this way. He is aware that it is not the same everywhere in the UK, but partly why he thrived in his journey was because he never felt like he was seen as any different.
Despite interest from other clubs, it was the way the club made him and his family feel that ensured he stayed at Leicester. This season marks his 16th with the club. Put simply, no one spends that long somewhere unless they feel like they belong there.
“Leicester just had a really nice feeling about it. My family didn’t know what to expect or what it was going to be like. I think they thought it’d be more hostile, but it was just a really friendly environment. Kids running around doing what we love.
“It was the best decision for me and my family at the time. And even now, it feels like home. I can’t really imagine anything else. I’m really fortunate. At the end of the day, when you feel comfortable, you perform well.”
Nevertheless, Hamza emphasises the need for a joint effort from both sides, for clubs and scouts to understand that there is an abundance of talent out there and dig into Asian communities to ensure it is not missed out on, and for Asian families to understand and embrace the fact that a career within football is achievable in modern-day Britain.
“Families should push their kids to go out and do what they enjoy, and support them,” he says. “It’s about changing mindsets, whether that’s the Asian community or scouts or just people who watch football.
“Perhaps, there was a racial bias that went on, either subconsciously or consciously, because if scouts have not had any successful British Asians, then most of them won’t want to waste their time. It’s a business for them.
“But it’s about creating opportunities for people to see what your life could potentially be and changing the frame of mind across the board. That’s something I really believe in.”
Now, undoubtedly as a role model and one of the shining faces of British-Asian football, Hamza reflects on his initial experiences within the game and how, over time, he’s come to understand the scale of his status.
“I never really thought about being a role model or someone that people looked up to. For me, it was always just about being a footballer, but once that happened it opened my eyes and maybe it was a bit naive to go in and think that I was the same as everyone else.
“So to get all these nice messages, it’s amazing, it’s the best thing and it makes me want to work and achieve even more. Playing in the Premier League offers that visibility worldwide and I think it’s so important for people to be able to make that connection with someone and understand that it’s not impossible.
“I want to help bridge the gap and help as many people as I can, giving them an opportunity to find their way in the game. Football’s changing now and it’s changed a lot from five or ten years ago. Right now, it needs British Asians to bridge that gap and make people feel comfortable.”
On the pitch, Hamza is fighting for a place in midfield in a Leicester side packed with talent and playing in Europe under Brendan Rodgers. For him, the focus is clear. The hard work never stops.
“Even when you become a professional footballer, you’ve got to work hard for your position. I’m enjoying working hard, I’m enjoying learning and it’s just for me to try and get as much game time as I can and push on from there and see what comes!”
Hamza’s top tips:
- Work hard – “Nothing comes without hard work”
- Go into everything with an open mind – “Don’t give yourself an excuse and don’t give anyone else an excuse.”
- Enjoy the journey – “Enjoy the opportunities and the times you have. When you’re enjoying it, you’re not putting pressure on yourself and you’ll definitely perform better and see better results.”
Anwar Uddin, 39, is the assistant manager at National League side Aldershot Town. He is also an FA Councillor and the Fans for Diversity Campaign Manager at the Football Supporters’ Association & Kick It Out. Anwar was the first British-Asian to captain a side in the top four divisions of English football.
Not many people, British-Asian or not, can say they’ve experienced the game through as many spectrums as Anwar Uddin. As a fan, a player, a coach, a son, a parent, and now on the governance side of the game, football has been a constant.
Anwar’s story is a well-known success tale within British-Asian football. As a teenager, he was one of the most talented young players in the country at the time and part of the victorious 1999 FA Youth Cup-winning squad at West Ham, alongside Michael Carrick and Joe Cole. And though he wasn’t able to make it into the first team at Upton Park, he went on to have a stellar career representing several Football League clubs, including Dagenham & Redbridge where he became the first British-Asian to captain a club in the top four divisions in English football.
Asked whether the magnitude of external interests into his career at an early stage created doubts and perhaps hampered his career trajectory, he is keen to point out that it was a distraction, but with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps a worthy distraction.
“To be honest, anything that takes your attention away from the practicality of playing and training is a distraction. However, if you look at the bigger picture, I think it’s an important distraction because if there are no role models, we need role models.
“So I was happy to take that responsibility and inspire people around me, the next generation, and people who are like me, not necessarily in the football industry, but just generally, because there was a lot of negativity around the South-Asian community within East London.
“I thought it was important to give people the realisation that, yeah we’re from a South-Asian community, but there’s nothing we can’t do if we set our mind to it and it’s something that we want to to do. Yes, it might be harder, yes, it might be different, but there’s an opportunity there and, ultimately, I always thought that the cream rises to the top.”
It’s this idea of constantly trying to be the best he can be that has helped elevate Anwar to role-model status within the British-Asian community and as an influential figure within the game.
But, even as a success story from the community, he feels clubs need to do more to create working environments that make people from minority backgrounds feel welcome to ensure that both players and the team get the best outcomes for each other.
“If you’re in a working environment, where you’re comfortable with your colleagues, everything is cool, you’ve got all the things you need, you’ll be much more productive. Better environments create better football players, which in turn create more success.
“If you’re in an environment where people are treating you differently, where you hear racist terminology, where there’s a lack of understanding about your faith, your culture, your background, then that is not a conducive environment for success or a conducive environment to get the best out of individuals.
“Yes, football is cut-throat and ruthless. It’s all of those things, but why not create an environment where you can get the best out of your players, where clubs and team-mates are aware of cultural and religious practices. Do that and you will certainly get a few more percent out of that player.
“I think it’s absolutely beneficial to every club to think about their environments and think about how we can make sure that differences are accepted? How can we make sure that everyone feels part of the team?”
Integration is crucial to ensure that such environments can be cultivated, and football is often praised for its capacity to allow cultures and faiths to mix, as seen across teams around the world. There was no better example of the effects of that integration than last season when a Premier League match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace was paused to allow Wesley Fofana and Cheikhou Kouyate to break their Ramadan fast.
“I’m buzzing that we’ve got to that point,” Anwar says. “That wouldn’t have even been thought of 10, 20 years ago. People wouldn’t even know what Ramadan or fasting was. Now we’re a little bit more in tune with that diversity and seeing simple things like that which mean so much to individuals.”
Just wanted to thank the @premierleague as well as @CPFC , @vguaita13 all the Foxes for allowing me to break my fast tonight in the middle of the game. That's what makes football wonderful 🙏🏾✊🏾#WF3 #PourEux pic.twitter.com/d56o8A8ZGo
— LAWESTT (@Wesley_Fofanaa) April 26, 2021
As Fans for Diversity Campaigns Manager, Anwar is a senior figure in an organisation that is devoted to making the experience of going to the match to be something for everyone. Over the last six years, Fans for Diversity has been responsible for thousands of people from underrepresented communities going to watch football.
“There are LGBTQ banners and fans all around the country. There are visibly Asian and Black supporters now watching teams up and down the country. So that visibility is so important because it helps people realise and understand that the game is now open to everyone, and rightly so.
“It’s about manipulation and relationships. My dad came over here in the 70s from Bangladesh and his relationship with football was based on TV, because every single time he went near a stadium, he was beaten up. So he stayed well clear. He still now has a fear around going to watch football because of previous experiences.
“We need to make the older generation realise that there has been positive change, but also we need to manipulate a relationship with the Asian community, just like any community. It’s about getting clubs to realise that they need to manipulate relationships with under-represented communities that might not have their club ingrained within their family DNA.
“Whether that means a stadium tour or an insight into the history of their local club, clubs need to help supporters find an affiliation and establish relationships with those fans. You can’t just rely on inheritance because the bulk of the Asian community support Liverpool or Manchester United because their parents do.”
As for Anwar, he is proud to have played a part in that visibility across the game and proud now to be part of conversations that can make a difference, part of the group making key decisions, to be able to bring a British-Asian perspective to the table and to provide a voice for the South-Asian community at every level of the game.
“As a football player, you have so many transferable skills, and the lived experiences that you have can be so significant. For me, it’s about trying to use those experiences to be that positive role model and affect positive change.”
Anwar’s top tips:
- Work hard – “It’s about hard work, determination and discipline. Be prepared to work hard, fail, fail and fail again, to then succeed. Be prepared to work hard and be prepared for failure because it’s not a straight road. It’s a winding road of ups and downs.”
- Network – “Build good impressions with everyone you meet. Build a network, because you never know when you might need someone to help you, offer you support and guidance or give you an opportunity.”
- Be kind – “Be kind because you are going to need family and friends to help you on your journey. People will make sacrifices for you on that journey. Be grateful and receptive to that support and support the people who are supporting you.”
Manisha Tailor, 40, is the Assistant Head of Coaching at QPR. A former deputy headteacher, she is the only woman of South-Asian heritage to hold such a role at one of England’s 92 football league clubs. In 2017, Manisha was awarded an MBE for ‘services to football and diversity in sport’.
“Football to me is about togetherness, integration, inclusion and a positive tool for bringing people together from all walks of life.”
These are words often uttered, but in the case of Manisha Tailor, they really mean something. She is a role model for women and for British-Asians, and because of her twin brother, Mayur, who has had a mental illness for the past 23 years, she has first-hand experience of how football can be a powerful integration tool for people with disabilities.
“I was able to consider how football can be used as a universal sport, to be able to connect with different people,” she says.
“For somebody like my brother, and many like him who I then got to know, they may not be able to verbally communicate in the way that we do, but physically, they’re fine. It’s about using sport to engage mentally and socially with people who have disabilities, people who have mental illnesses, who may not ordinarily be able to communicate otherwise. And that’s where I found that football was a great tool.
“With Wingate and Finchley Football Club, which is my local non-league club, we were able to generate some interest and actually connect with other people who were in a similar situation.”
Manisha left a successful and stable career in teaching in 2011 to spend time caring for her brother and follow her passion for the game, but the idea of it being a full-time career is something that only struck Manisha in her mid-30s while volunteering at QPR. Growing up, despite being football-mad, the very notion of becoming a female footballer and specifically an Asian female footballer was both unrealistic and unheard of.
“We’re seeing more and more role models from the South-Asian community now on and off the pitch. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but we do have a lot more role models and visibility than we ever had before. That didn’t exist in the 80s or the 90s.
“So when I was growing up, I realised that a playing career was not going to be on my pathway. And for my mum, with a lack of role models, she just didn’t see South Asian females playing football.”
It was actually the former England international Rachel Yankey who drove Manisha to do her coaching badges. Through volunteering and spending time in the game, she came to meet Chris Ramsey, which sparked a life-changing opening for her.
“It’s very competitive, and you don’t see people like you in those jobs. So you do tend to believe that it’s impossible because there’s a lack of visibility. If wasn’t for Chris in 2016, when he allowed me to come in and volunteer, I wouldn’t have been able to show that I have the pre-requisite qualifications.
“You need a chance. And I needed someone to help me. You need someone to help take you under their wing and develop you. And Chris did that.”
That mentorship and belief from Chris, alongside others at QPR, allowed Manisha to learn and develop her craft and hone in on understanding the philosophy at the club. In June this year, four years after she entered the doors at QPR, Manisha was promoted to a role that now sees her assist Chris in disseminating that philosophy and overseeing the youth coaching department.
That initial belief in her ability, combined with QPR’s desire to create opportunities for potential talent from minority backgrounds, created a pathway for Manisha, but it’s something that needs to be done across the board to improve representation.
“What made it viable for me and what made me believe that there is a pathway for me in the game was that we have a director of football (Les Ferdinand) who empathises with people with differences, but it’s not tokenistic and will employ the best people for the job.
“We have an extremely diverse board from our owners to Les who genuinely believe in inclusion. I have a boss in Chris Ramsey, who gave me an opportunity and took me under his wing, to help nurture and develop me as a person and has invested a lot of time and energy in helping me grow and develop.
“If you are somebody who is open to learning and understands how Chris operates and works, he will help you grow. And he will help you get to where you need to get to. And I firmly believe that and I say that as somebody who’s South Asian, who’s a woman, and in an extraordinary position.”
Now as a trailblazer in the game, with an influential platform and her own initiative, Swaggarlicious, which fundamentally seeks to use the power of football and education to engage with diverse community groups and organisations, for Manisha it’s now a matter of using her experiences to influence wider change.
“How can I help use my voice to influence change so that people feel that a job like mine is realistic and viable to them? That for me is important. And outside of my direct club work (at QPR), I want to use my experiences and the journey with my brother and this journey with football and well-being to show young people that there are real stories of trailblazers out there because education is still going to be a big part for me. That’s my identity.”
To do that, in addition to all the remarkable work that she does already, Manisha is currently working on a second book interviewing figures across different aspects of the game and, in turn, producing stories for children.
“I can’t wait until we can get kids seeing people like them in books. For me, that’s really important. I want to be able to use my experiences in both football and education and well-being to show children that you can pick up a book and you can see someone like you and you can go off and do that job.”
Manisha’s top tips:
- Find a mentor – “Find someone who can guide and facilitate your development.”
- Be patient – “It’s not a race. Be patient and be willing to learn and hone in on your trade.”
- Be adaptable – “Be adaptable. Find and gather a diverse range of experiences that you will then be able to put together to help you move forward because adaptability is key. You need that diversity to be adaptable.”
Seema Jaswal, 36, is a well-known presenter, currently working for the Premier League and for BT Sport on the UEFA Champions League. She also hosted for ITV on UEFA EURO 2020. Seema is one of the industry’s most sought-after presenters, with experience working for a number of UK and International broadcasters.
For Seema Jaswal, a passion for sports has been ever-present since childhood. Raised in a sports-mad family, and a qualified tennis coach by the age of 16, it’s been running through her blood for as long as she can remember.
Now, presenting for the Premier League, for BT Sport on the Champions League, and coming off the back of presenting for ITV during the Euros, hers is a face that is regularly seen and recognised by audiences around the world.
“Football pretty much means everything to me because it’s my life. I live and breathe it. And it’s amazing. It’s given me so many opportunities in my life – to be part of World Cups, the Euros, be pitchside for events and host these amazing tournaments – it means the world to me.”
Yet for Seema, a career in television was never really a realistic career ambition until she landed a role as a runner at Sky Sports after University. After studying sociology and politics, it was seeing the operations at Sky Sports first-hand that led her to the realisation that working in television was exactly what she wanted to do.
“I graduated thinking I don’t want to do anything to do with sociology or politics. It was later on that I found my passion for television when I became a runner at Sky Sports News. I was about 23. I’d graduated, I’d sent my CV to all sorts of companies, in sales, recruitment, banking. I don’t know what I was thinking, because I look back at it now thinking none of those jobs would be very much me.”
Now a fully-fledged professional with a career seemingly going from one peak to another, she talks about having the grit to deal with the challenges that arise in this industry but simultaneously ensuring that obstacles that others have mentioned didn’t ultimately become her own.
Seema knows all about what it takes to make it, in what can be an incredibly ruthless industry. It’s a career that doesn’t come easy for anyone, never mind a young British-Asian female without anyone to really look up to in the industry and simply say, ‘oh she’s like me.’
“I remember one of my neighbours – bless her, she’s a lovely lady – when I told her, I really want to be a TV presenter. She said to me: Oh, how is that going to happen for you? You don’t know anyone in the industry. You don’t have a journalistic background. Things like that don’t happen to people like us. We don’t know this world. You have to know somebody.”
It’s a common theme for British-Asians within sport – this idea of constantly having to prove people wrong. For Seema, it was while in Asia hosting the Indian Super League, despite having never previously hosted a football match, where she caught her break and came to truly believe that she was cut out to succeed in this industry. Her success in India led to an offer from the Premier League to be a part of their global coverage in 2016.
“There’s nothing like being thrown in the deep end. And if you really want it, you either sink or you swim. And that’s pretty much my story. When I was in India, I learned on the job. And I got better, so I hosted 60 live matches across about three months.
“And as I got to match 10,15 and 20, then I started to feel like okay, I’m getting to grips with this. It was at the end when the Premier League offered me my job here (in London) that I was like right this is for me! I believed that I could do it, but that’s when I was like, ‘okay, I think I’m made to do this!'”
Being one of the faces of BT Sport’s award-winning coverage of the UEFA Champions League is something that Seema could never have foreseen at the start of her career. It’s testament to her ability and the breadth and depth of her knowledge that has enabled her to reach the levels that she has, but she places a clear emphasis on others driving change within the industry so that people like her could come in and thrive.
“I feel like I entered the industry at a time where there was a real push for change. When I came back home and started presenting football (for the Premier League), so many doors started opening for me.
“I don’t think I ever felt like I was this Asian girl trying to make it because there was so much coming my way. But that’s credit to those just before me, like Reshmin Chowdhury, Manish Bhasin and other Asian presenters for initially breaking down those barriers for people like me to step in.”
Reaching that status as a role model is one thing. Cementing that status and using it correctly is another. Seema’s social media is inundated with Asian parents reaching out for advice, and she sees it as her duty to help inspire the next generation.
“There are a lot of Asian parents out there messaging saying, ‘our daughters or sons have seen you and they’re so inspired by what you’re doing. How did you get to it? What was it that your parents did when you were growing up? Did they encourage you? Was it was something you wanted to do?’ And it’s so nice because I think that’s my responsibility now. I want to be able to impart what I’ve experienced on people.
“I think visibility is key. The fact that I am in my position to talk about it is really, really important, to be present, to talk about the industry. I’m in the position to do that. It’s now my job and anyone visible in different industries to be able to say actually, you know what, you can embark on a career in this.”
There has been a gradual shift from the traditional professions that British Asians tend to pursue towards the creative industries and other industries that may not have seen a visible presence of British Asians before. But careers within sport and sports media are still seen as fragile, risky and perhaps not always viewed in a comfortable light.
But Seema feels certain that if someone is willing to work hard, opportunities are there for them.
“I think we have to credit the older generations because a lot of them came here in really tough circumstances and they had to fight and make a way. They had to create that stability for us. The only reason I’m able to do this is because my parents did that for me and I haven’t had the struggles that they’ve had. Credit to them for doing that, and allowing us to live these amazing lives and go to university and have these opportunities that they never had.
“Partly why maybe we weren’t encouraged so much or some people weren’t encouraged so much is because this isn’t the most stable career. You have to hit the top end to be able to know that you’ve got longevity in it.
“It’s very cut-throat. You can be the person that’s doing everything one year, and then the next season, there might be the next best thing to come through. And that you’d have to be prepared for.
“But if you work hard, and you’re credible, and literally when I say work hard, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t see, then there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy your career, within football, within media, within anything creative. And we can steer away from those traditional professions.”
Seeing the likes of Seema on screens will undoubtedly help young people wanting to get into a creative industry. You can be what you can see. And to be that inspiration is something that will continue to bring great joy.
“That visibility is key and I see it for myself where people are saying to me, actually you’ve done it, so we can do it. And that’s amazing. That is an amazing feeling.”
Seema’s top tips:
- Don’t let other people’s obstacles become your own – If you want to go down this path, then do it. There’ll be a lot of noise. And there’ll be people that might say you can’t do it for many different reasons. But those reasons are their reasons, not your reasons. So if you are focused on wanting to do it, then focus on it and back yourself. Because if you don’t believe you can do it, then nobody else will.”
- Be credible – “Don’t believe that just because we’re now undergoing a period of change that it’s easy, because it’s not. It’s not easy at all. You have to spend time understanding whatever you’re presenting. That credibility is key because you’re presenting something that everybody watching loves. So if you’re not credible and you don’t put your fans hat on and you don’t do the research that you need, then you won’t go far in this job.”
- Be nice and enjoy it – “Be nice, be kind to people. People like to work with people that are nice. You never quite know what’s going on in other people’s worlds, you never quite know what they’re going through. So be nice and have respect for each other. It goes a long, long, way. And if it really is what you want to do, then just go and enjoy it. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, you have to miss stuff at times. But it’s bloody great!”
Mayumi “Maz” Pacheco, 23, plays for Aston Villa in the FA Women’s Super League. The left-back made her WSL debut with Liverpool aged just 16 and also helped England to a third-place finish at the 2018 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup. Maz has also played for Reading and West Ham.
At the age of just 23, Maz Pacheco is already a role model for young girls around the country. The energetic and buccaneering full-back with a law degree is waving the flag for British-Asian female footballers, with exposure at youth international level on top of her club experiences.
“It’s a cliche to say it, but football means everything to me. From as early as I can remember, I’ve always had a ball at my feet. And it’s something that I’ve not only had to make sacrifices for; my family have had to sacrifice things too to make me be in the position that I’m in.
“Football is my way of giving back to them, showing them that it was worth their time, it was worth their energy to take me to and from training, to help me get to games, to make sure I’m on time to things. I just want to make my family proud.
“But I also want to inspire the next generation and get more Asians involved in football. Show that there is a career path and try to pave the way for the next generation.
“I’m not going to lie, I had no idea that I could make a career out of this, even when I was at the Academy at Liverpool. I had no idea it could be a professional career at the time. I just thought, ‘oh wow they play for Liverpool.’ I didn’t think anything else of it. It was only really when I went into the reserves when I was like ‘wow, they are full-time, It’s not a part-time environment.'”
For Maz, it was a question of achieving all her ambitions and promising her mother that she would complete her academic studies. Maz spent a few seasons at Doncaster Belles while she juggled her university degree in Sheffield with her football, in order to pursue her passion for both law and the game.
To now be able to call herself both a professional footballer and a law graduate is some feat, but she is keen for the game to continuously strive to improve accessibility and create pathways to ensure that the next generation can see pursuing a career as a women’s footballer as a profession and know it does not have to come at the expense of an education.
“How can we make it easier for girls to get involved, especially of Asian heritage?” she says. “Because sometimes it’s not the first thought for girls to play football, especially in culture scenarios. So how do we then change that mindset into this idea that they can make a career and they can push and still do well, and still study?
“Because education, especially in my culture, is a massive thing. So how can we then marry the two is something I want to showcase. Especially with my journey, I’ve shown that you can still have an education and still make it pro. That’s something that I try to always get into conversation with young girls that are studying.”
That status as a role model is no doubt important for Maz. Whether it’s seeing messages of love on social media, meeting fans at stadiums or doing work with the FA to help inspire British Asians, Maz truly appreciates her standing and responsibilities that naturally come with it.
“I remember my first game at the home stadium, there were a lot of young girls there. And I remember they had a tournament the next day, and they were telling me about it, how excited they were and I was like, ‘make sure you smash it, you’re gonna win, I’ve got a good feeling’.
“And next thing you know, they sent me a picture of them holding the trophy saying we’ve won it. Little stories like make my day and make me realise I’m happy to be here. I’m grateful to be in this position. I’m all for it when youngsters are asking for advice or asking about my journey, or just anything to do with that it makes me happy.
“Being a role model has its responsibilities, has its pressures, but I enjoy it because it means I’m doing something good. And the game’s growing into where we want it to grow.”
— Aston Villa Women (@AVWFCOfficial) September 15, 2021
For Maz, playing football for a living is a dream come true, but the pinnacle of the dream is edging ever closer to reality – to represent England in football at senior level.
“That would just be massive, I feel like I would cry if I ever get into the seniors. It’d be a massive moment for me, my family, my culture. And I think to be the first would be an amazing step in the right direction.
“We’re big on saying that it doesn’t matter where you’re from – colour, race, age, if you deserve to be there, you’re going to be there. And I am a firm believer in that. And especially going through the England youth age groups, I believe that’s what they’re about as well. So for me, it’s just a matter of time and a matter of me, and what I do to improve on and off the pitch.”
Maz’s top three tips:
- Be determined – “First and foremost, be determined in what you want to do. Have a clear plan.”
- Enjoy the journey – “Enjoy it. Because the moment you don’t enjoy it, you don’t get the best out of yourself.”
- Appreciate it – “Always appreciate how far you’ve come. Even the little things, you don’t realise how much them little moments can lead into a big moment.”
Be it Hamza, Maz, Seema, Manisha or Anwar, the striking message is clear: it is possible for that passion for the game to eventually lead to a career. Of course, it’s not easy and it never will be, but it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. Not only to create a career within the sport but to also thrive within their respective fields.
And though the numbers are still small, these five guys and the other British-Asians in sport can be an inspiration to others. Because an integral part of improving the status quo is ensuring young British-Asians can look at clubs and on their televisions and see themselves and their communities reflected there. To recognise that there is an opportunity for them.
Imagine seeing Chowdhury or Pacheco represent England at senior level, for example. Imagine the impact that could have for a young person of Asian heritage to see themselves reflected in the national team. Childhood dreams can be ignited by a feeling of possibility.
But though there are more success stories to speak positively about, there is clearly still work to be done. Across the board, a level of mutual understanding and a joint cohesive effort is required from both families and clubs. Or on a broader scope, between community and organisation.
There must be an understanding as to what is needed, perhaps open-mindedness more than anything. From young British-Asians with a dream, to believe they can achieve it through dedication; to their families, who may still struggle with that belief; and of course to the clubs, who must ensure opportunities for all, negate stereotypes, promote integration, and above all, foster a culture of belonging. After all, as Hamza and Anwar emphasised, better environments tend to create better football players which in turn will lead to more success.
Collectively, these interviews showcase the stories of five British-Asian individuals pursuing their dreams. Stories which provide some semblance of what is required to succeed and thrive within the game.
But above all, these stories showcase to a generation of British-Asians and to teams and organisations across football, that if they can do it, then so can others. That feeling of knowing we have a place here.
These are the trailblazers and role models. Let the next generation be full of them.
By Aadam Patel