WHEN video footage earlier this year showed Chelsea fans in Paris repeatedly preventing a black man from boarding a train, the world was outraged.
The incident reignited the debate around the ongoing issue of racism in the sport and sparked widespread condemnation from football pundits and fans.
Managers said the supporters, who were banned from all matches for up to five years last month, were not “fans of football”. Others, however, questioned whether the “beautiful game” was doing enough to tackle the issue.
Eastern Eye profiled award-winning individuals working at grassroots and official levels to eradicate discrimination in all forms and helping more Asian players break through into pro football.
HEAD TEACHER-turned-football coach Manisha Tailor has become one of the most well-known names at grassroots level.
The Brentford scout, who is also head coach of a Middlesex Centre of Excellence youth side, was inspired by her twin brother to take up a career in the sport.
At the age of 18, due to a series of traumatic events that involved long-term bullying, her twin became depressed and became nonverbal, which meant he required one-to-one care.
Tailor left her job as a teacher at a primary school and did a Masters in Leadership and began coaching part-time in schools.
“As I returned home one day from work, I saw my brother smile. He then walked over to my football equipment and said ‘Football… Manisha’, she recalled.
“I paused, took a deep breath and tried to absorb what he had said. I immediately knew there was a connection, and that was between me, my brother and football.
“I decided to pursue a career in football as I believe it will act as a trigger to aid my twin’s recovery from depression. Along the way it is also helping me deal with my emotional journey too.”
Tailor, who passed her UEFA B Licence last week, has set up a community development football centre at The Swaminarayan School in west London, which aims to increase the number of Asian boys and girls playing the game regularly.
She has also partnered with Wingate and Finchley FC and Barnet Voice for Mental Health to run coaching sessions for those that suffer with mental illness in the borough of Barnet.
“The inspiration for this project is my twin brother. I hope to use my story and the power of football to challenge the taboo and stigma in relation to mental health, particularly with those from the BAME community,” Tailor explained.
As a scout and coach, Tailor has noticed many talented players now coming out of the Asian community. “There are a few Asian young players in Brentford’s system and there are most definitely more Asian’s playing football competitively,” she said.
“As head coach at Middlesex Girls Centre of Excellence, I have been able to recruit young players, including those that are Asian, to play elite level football.
“Being Indian myself is imperative to engaging with and recruiting more girls from diverse background. I have seen the impact of this through my work.” Those thinking about a career in football must first understand their “purpose”, said Tailor.
“Why do you want to work in or play football? Be determined, and with courage and passion, pursue your goals. Gain as much voluntary experience as possible. I still volunteer now and strongly believe it is the life-blood of grassroots football,”she said.
“Communities couldn’t survive and exist otherwise. The power of volunteering cannot be under-estimated and will be instrumental in achieving your goals.”
Tailor believes clubs are taking the issue of racism more seriously with the introduction of The FA’s mandatory education. The session is something that players, managers, referees, officials and administrators take part in after they breach FA rules with an aggravated element.
Tailor explained: “An ‘aggravated breach’, according to the FA, is misconduct which includes a reference to ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability.
“I am one of the facilitators. This workshop is designed for young people and adults alike. Clubs have a duty of care and responsibility to honour their anti-discrimination philosophies, which in some cases, has been debatable.
“The work I do with Show Racism the Red Card aims to tackle and educate young people on issues surrounding racism and how this links to football and their everyday lives. And yes, given the Chelsea incident, it highlights the importance of our work even more. “However I do think clubs need to take more onus and responsibility over the issue.”
IN A male-dominated world of football, Annie Zaidi is a trailblazer who is determined to change the status quo.
Donning a headscarf while she coaches under- 11s at Leicester City’s Centre of Excellence, Zaidi is the first South Asian woman to get a Level Two coaching certificate from the Football Association (FA).
“You need people like me to shake up everything,”she told Eastern Eye. Zaidi, who is also a youth engagement coach at Leicester, left her former job as a training consultant for young people to pursue her passion for coaching. Currently she chairs the Black Asian Coaches Association (BACA) and is an ambassador for Sporting Equals & Slenky.
Zaidi is now working to achieve the prestigious UEFA B License in the hope of becoming a full-time coach at a professional club coaching elite players. One day she would like to coach the England women and men’s team.
She said: “I was told I do not have the right image for a professional club and no one would take me. I love proving people wrong. Now I’m a coach at a Premier League club, two seasons in, and I’m the only Asian girl to do it, with a headscarf as well.”
She trains the youngsters in Leicester twice a week for two hours. “We also do one-to-ones every four weeks, parent’s evenings, and completing targets every six weeks,” she explained.
“It’s not just coming, playing and go; we nurture the individual development. You can’t get any better than playing for a professional club at elite level. The next level would be the England Development Squad, which will be when they are 16.”
Zaidi, who prefers watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night rather than going out with her family and friends, has been involved in grassroots football for the past ten years. Her passion for coaching started out when she was a youth worker for Coventry council.
She said: “Football is a tool to breakdown cultural barriers and create community cohesion. Part of my work then was engaging youngsters with football on their turf, like local parks. Football was my love and a bridge between me and young people. That’s where it started.”
Zaidi strongly believes that Asian youngsters have the talent to be at the top of the game, but more needs to be done to invest in local players rather than ones from overseas.
“I’ve seen a lot of good white and black boys who aren’t getting a look in. People saying Asians aren’t good is not a good excuse, because they are on the same level. It’s not about not being seen because of religion or colour.
The whole issue is we’re investing too much on players overseas.” While racism and discrimination in the “beautiful game” is improving at the top clubs, grassroots level still needs much improvement, according to Zaidi.
“At Leicester City, because it’s a professional environment, you don’t get no problems. If discrimination is seen it will be dealt with in the right procedure.
“I think there’s more racism in grassroots, which is undercover. This happens week-in, week-out every Sunday. It’s not making the papers. Opposition managers, players and parents all display racist behaviour.
“There are people who don’t shake my hand. That’s disrespectful. They’re only thinking one thing – that woman shouldn’t be allowed in the football pitch.”
When Zaidi first started out, she said members of the Asian community were more hard on her than anyone else.
“I got more racism and sexism from the Asian community, because I’m a female and I’m not a role model,” she said. “People calling me a role model now surprises me because a few years ago people were hating me.”
She added: “Football is the same as any organisation you go to. You get the same discrimination top to bottom like you get anywhere. It’s not different to anywhere else. When people recognise that, things will begin to evolve.”
MOHAMMED ZAFRAN has helped over 13,500 youngsters in some of the most deprived areas of Birmingham through the All 4 Youth and Community project.
The community worker, who won this year’s FA Respect Award last month, was presented with the Sir Bobby Moore trophy at the FA Community Shield at Wembley for his work in helping young people get into sport.
The father-of-two was inspired to do something to get youngsters off the streets after he was left distraught when his brother-in-law was the victim of a fatal stabbing. “It was a really hard time, because the year before I lost my sister,” said Zafran, who works as a community liason officer at South & City College.
“After the stabbing, the court case went on for 11 months. A young lad, a 16-year-old, was arrested, but he was released and the case was closed.”
Instead of feeling hate for the perpetrators, Zafran started a project with help from ex-England cricketer Rawait Khan and other professionals. He set up local sports teams and free coaching sessions, which take place every weekend.
Around 250 kids attend the sessions every Saturday. His team of volunteers scour the parks and streets of Birmingham during weekdays to find youngsters to join the programme at South & City College.
He said: “I approach kids most people or groups wouldn’t approach. I find them in the streets, parks and alleyways. A lot of them walk around with a knife.
“The kids say that they’re not working and don’t get much pocket money, so they use the knife to make money, by mugging for example.”
As more youngsters got involved in his activities, Zafran started to liaise with local business and companies to help with career advice and jobs. He also started to get sports clubs scouting for talent.
“Before the kids used to come in for fun. Now we’re seeing some real talent. The main focus was to change them. “Now we’re seeing some high-profile people coming now. I’ve had conversations with boxer Amir Khan too.
“We have so much talent in deprived areas like inner-city Birmingham, but they don’t get scouted or recognised.
“In football Asian kids are on par with every other kid, so there should be no question about talent there,” Zafran said. With some teenagers however, parents rarely took time out to appreciate what their children are up to, he added.
BUTCH FAZAL started a pioneering initiative to increase the participation of football among South Asian women by helping them attend matches.
Fazal, chairman of the National Asians in Football Forum, is the mastermind behind the From Headscarves to Football Scarves project.
The scheme, which started in 2013, captures the girl’s thoughts on their experiences of going to games.
It also lobbies football’s governing bodies to provide opportunities for South Asian women to not only participate but also watch the sport. Fazal has taken dozens of girls to local club Luton Town.
Last year they travelled to the Emirates Stadium for the London club’s dedicated “Arsenal for Everyone” fixture with Hull City.
“The girls had a wonderful time. They allowed us on the pitch before the game, which was fantastic,” he said. “The campaign is really picking up speed and I can see it reaching out to a much wider audience.
“The Football Supporters’ Federation and Kick It Out picked up on the initiative after the Luton game. They felt we could offer a lot more than just that one match.
“With their contacts in the Premier League, Arsenal were the first club to come to us and say they’d love for some of our girls to come along.”
When the girls went for their first football match in Luton, they were “nervous”, said Fazal.
“The girls had these apprehensive and reluctant views about going to the game, but when they were inside the stadium watching the match, everything went perfectly. “Some girls said they felt ‘unified’.
They said we had physical differences – ‘We had the hijab, we were different skin colour’ – but as soon as they wore the orange and blue tops, everyone knew they were Luton supporters. “All of a sudden all their differences had disappeared.
They had commonality. Middle-aged white guys showed them how to sing the songs.”
Fazal, a well-known figure in grassroots football in Luton, coaching local team Luton United, will now be throwing himself into his new role given by the FA as a a county coach developer for Bedfordshire.
“Its okay being on the periphery and the outside of things, but if you really want to be in a position of influence, you have to shape things from the inside.
“The FA had 24 national posts available for county coach roles and two of them went to south Asians. I’m alongside Pav Singh, who is the county coach for Leicestershire.
“That is an example of how big the change is within the FA and within football in particular. They are recognising the vital contribution we make, but more importantly how we shape the future as well; that’s really important.
“I will be coaching coaches basically. We’re tasked with raising the standard of coaching in grassroots football,” he explained. Fazal added: “I’ve got a real opportunity now to shape and influence that policy in the country.”
ZESH REHMAN holds a unique place in English football as the first British Asian to feature in the English Premier League.
The powerful central defender most notably featured for Fulham, as well as a host of other English clubs. He joined Malaysia’s Pahang in 2013 on a two-year contract after spells in Thailand and Hong Kong.
The Pakistan international started his charity, The Zesh Rehman Foundation, back in 2010 to encourage children from all backgrounds to participate in football and other sports to better themselves.
One of their programmes is the “Sidelined-2- Sidelines” programme, which is a bespoke coach education and mentoring programme for 16-25 year olds.
Its aim is to increase the number of British Asian coaches who can act as role models and help develop provision in predominantly Asian communities. These coaches then work with local schools and youth clubs in the Asian community to try and encourage young Asian children to get into sport.
“We have many coaches who are based all around England. Most of our coaches are in London, however we have coaches in Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Luton also,” said Vikas Sadiq, sports development officer at The Zesh Rehman Foundation.
“Going into schools is one option to look for raw talent; however talent can also be found in other projects such as half-term camps and soccer schools within the community.”
If a youngster were spotted by one of Rehman’s coaches that has potential, Sadiq said they would support them by trying to develop their ability and work on improving all areas of the game.
He explained: “Without putting any pressure on the youngster, we will ensure that their love for playing football is still intact and encourage them to play as much as they can.
“While also talking with their parent, we will then recommend the young child to professional clubs we work with, such as the Chelsea, Fulham and Crystal Palace Foundations. The clubs will then invite the child to their development centre’s where they will have a chance to showcase their talent.”
Sadiq said it is important for the parents to encourage their kids to play as much as they can.
“Something simple such as playing with the child in the garden can improve ability.
“We also encourage parents to sign their children up at local soccer schools, as their child will receive coaching from FA-qualified coaches,” he said.