Decades ago, it was predicted the top leagues in England would finally see homegrown British Asian footballers gracing the green and white strip of pleasure.
A couple of high-profile names broke through, like Michael Chopra and Zesh Rehman, but even they found it hard to establish themselves in the cut-throat, capitalistic juggernaut that is the Premier League.
Why did more not follow them? In a football-mad country, the British Asian fraternity are just as crazy about the great ball of fire as everyone else so why have we not seen a Khan from Leeds or a Ahmed from Luton play at Anfield, the Emirates or Stamford Bridge?
Many people have a laundry list of reasons including parents wanting them to study, lack of integration, racism, physical defects, loving cricket too much, outdated stereotypes, sticking to their own kind, religious priority, perceived lack of reward and food sensitivities. There are others like being Rochdale supporters or eating so many pakoras that their waistlines erupts but we we’ll not go into them.
But, on a serious note, I feel that while some of the above are genuine areas for exploration in terms of why the breakthrough hasn’t happened, there are two other aspects that are crucial to the overall psychology and way of thinking.
The first is the ‘streak of individuality’ needed as to make it as a professional footballer. At a certain age (usually very early), you need to decide if you’re going to attend that extra training session or go out with your mates and have fun. You can do both but, after a while, one will have to take priority. You could call it selfishness or just a plain, burning desire to succeed. The British Asian community are no different in this outlook but many of them lack this critical ‘streak of individuality’ because the psychological ties to their family and – collective structures – run deep. It isn’t because the family and community don’t want their son or daughter to make it big, it’s more because the son or daughter are hesitant about being deemed, for obvious reasons, ‘selfish’. The psychological stranglehold of collective thinking isn’t quite at Stasi or KGB level (okay, I exaggerate) but for a British Asian footballer to really make it, this kind of iron grip has to be loosened.
Secondly, although many British Asians do support the England football team (although just like everyone else, club tribalism takes precedence), their footballing heritage is sparse and practically non-existent. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have never made it to a World Cup so there is a lack of inspiration from the first and second generation immigrants to talk up ‘the beautiful game’. Most of the ‘Asian’ heroes come down to people like Wasim Akram, Sachin Tendulkar and, even Amir Khan. They are iconic and world-renowned. But they are not footballers. This has to change if we’re ever to see a major British Asian star in the Premier League.
Should this matter? Not really, if football gives you year-round indigestion. But for others, there are wider, social issues to be addressed and getting a few lads off the streets and onto the park has to be a good thing. I realise a lot of people are doing excellent work in this regard but, again, they won’t be ones kicking the ball or scoring the goal. That has to come from within. Teamwork may pay later on but, at the outset, it’s all down to you.