With the words of encouragement from England cricketer Moeen Ali still ringing in his ears, it dawned on Easah Suliman that he had the potential to inspire a whole community.
The England Under-17s international is a proud Muslim, and when he was handed the captain’s armband for his country against Faroe Islands back in August 2013, he became the first British Asian to skipper the Young Lions.
Birmingham-born Suliman, who signed a pro deal with Aston Villa when he turned 17 in January, is hoping his performances can help give belief to Asian youngsters across the country.
The team took on Spain in a World Cup play-off on Tuesday (19), and held their nerve to see off Spain. They converted all five penalties after a goalless play-off to seal a finals spot at Chile 2015, with Suliman scoring the crucal spot-kick to send the Three Lions to the finals.
“Being a British-Pakistani, it doesn’t really happen that often to people in my community. I hope that I’m inspiring people around me and in my area to believe that they can achieve what they want with hard work,” Suliman told TheFA.com at the team hotel in Pomorie. Bulgaria. The team were in the country as part of John Peacock’s squad for the European U17 Championship.
“It’s huge playing for England. It’s a small community where I live in Moseley, but everyone is well excited to see me do well and they are all rooting for me. I’m trying to do it to prove to those younger than me that they can achieve their dreams.
“Moeen, who has been playing the recent Test matches for England, is another British Pakistani Muslim from around my area as well. He is a friend of my dad and has spoken to me a few times about it.
“He’s given me a lot of advice and encouraged me to keep going and carry on doing what I’m doing. He wants me to show the younger ones around my area that they can make it in professional sports; it doesn’t matter what culture you are, the opportunities are there and we can achieve our dreams.”
As a practising Muslim, Suliman can only eat halal meat, but he says he is getting all the support he needs within the England camp.
“One of the main issues when we come away is the food. It can be quite hard when you visit another country, but Dave Tivey [the side’s physical performance coach] has been amazing at sorting it out, along with our team ops Andrew Free.
“The only meat that I can’t eat is pork. Any other meat has to be Halal, but fish is fine too, so I’ve had plenty of options,” he said.
And then of course there is Ramadan, a time when Suliman has to fast for 30 days, which is a challenge for any professional athlete.
“The last Ramadan for me was in June, just when we started pre-season. So I was fasting whilst doing that, but Villa were brilliant in supporting me and managing my workload throughout that.
“I get a lot of support through talking to my coaches. They know my religion is the most important thing for me, and that will always come first, so I will always fast and try and work my football around that.”
After being an unused substitute in the 1-0 group stage win over Italy and the 1-1 draw with Holland, Suliman came on for Danny Collinge in the 48th minute of the 1-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland last Wednesday (11).
Suliman replaced Collinge again in the 63rd minute in the quarter-final clash with Russia last Saturday (17), playing alongside highly-touted West Ham United prospect Reece Oxford, but England crashed out the competition in a 1-0 defeat.
“It’s been great to be called up for the finals. I thought I did quite well in the Elites, especially in the last game. I showed my versatility again as I ended up playing right-back at the end,” he said.
“That’s what I need to do, stay focused, as I know my time will come and I’ve got to take my chance.”
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