Like many Asian kids, growing up I had one passion; football! I spent my free time in the house practicing my kick ups and to the bemusement of my mother regularly breaking household items. I would wake up on a Saturday morning, have my breakfast, and off I was to knock on houses round the area of Broadgate to see who was coming out to play. I wouldn’t return home until the sun began to set, my mood completely dependent on how I had played that day.
This is a common story for thousands of Asians across England. So my question is, why is there such a shortage of Asian players within the professional game?
Now I know what most people are expecting me say. Racism!? While this is an issue that I think definitely needs addressing within the game, I don’t believe this to be the root cause. I am now 23 and let me make it clear, I was and never will be good enough to make it at a professional level. I play for a Saturday amateur team and regularly play in 5-aside leagues and tournaments. But this is as far as my footballing career was ever going to go. However, I know many Asian players who had the ability to make it in the professional game, but didn’t. Why? In my opinion the issue lies in the Asian culture itself. There is a simple difference in priorities when comparing the Asian culture to the traditional British one. Education, work and family trumps sport every day and therefore these players simply have not been exposed to the opportunities and nurtured from a young age to make it professionally. On a daily basis at Orange Soccer I witness players being nurtured and developed and in my opinion this is what is lacking in the Asian community, which stifles young talent, not allowing them the chance to break the obvious barriers in football.
As mentioned, as a youngster my only interest was football, but I never had the ambition of making it as a professional footballer. Is this not strange? Surely a child who loved football to such a degree would have some kind of ambition to pursue a career in football?
Growing up my parents had no interest in football. While they supported me greatly and I have them to thank for everything I have achieved to this day, my footballing ability I thank myself for and myself alone. My parents saw football as a hobby of mine and no more. I was pushed to focus on school studies to better my chance of building a good career. Ironically I have now ended up working in the football industry! Statistics show that children who end up playing professionally are picked up by scouts at a young age. From my experience only a relatively small number of Asian players at the age of 5-9 from my generation played for an organised team. It’s a simple numbers game. In football the odds of reaching professional level are slim. The problem is only exacerbated when the pool of talent being selected from is that small in comparison with the the relative breakdown of society.
I spent my younger days playing on the local AstroTurf and concrete pitches and whilst playing on the sand definitely developed me as a player, unless you are having a kickabout on a beach in Barcelona I doubt there are going to be any scouts watching! I played my first 11aside game at the age of 19, and to say the least I felt lost. Playing small sided games had nurtured me to be good on the ball and be able to play in tight spaces, however the bigger sided game offered a whole new range of obstacles. In a positional sense I was all over the place, and don’t get me started on getting used to playing on a grass pitch!
I know a handful of Asian players in a similar situation who I truly believe if they had been put in the right learning environment as a youth, with hard training and a bit of luck they would have had the ability to make it on the professional stage. The path to the professional game is a long one. Firstly support needs to be given from all angles of life. From parents, friends to Coaches and Teachers. I believe this is the main reason there is a lack of Asian players in the professional game. To make it in the game you have to give everything. From training regularly, to your diet and being mentally prepared. This comes out of habit from a young age and within the Asian community it is not something this is pushed. Only in the last couple of years have Asian parents started taking the footballing environment seriously. From signing their children up to teams at a young age and supporting them in extra training and allowing them to see football and sport in general as a genuine career choice.
I think the nurturing of children as players is something that is only coming into the Asian community recently, putting them in the right environments to at least be given the opportunity to pursue a career in football. This is highlighted well at the Orange Soccer Academy in Preston. We have several children from Asian backgrounds ranging from the age of 6 to 16. While I am not saying that these players are destined to make it professionally, what I am saying is this is the perfect environment for a child to grow technically and mentally and where opportunities would arise to take their game to next level. At the Academy healthy eating, lifestyle choices and attitudes to learning are all at the forefront of building players and people of tomorrow. I am hopeful that with opportunities like this and changing attitudes within the Asian Culture, a new crop of Asian professional players will emerge.
Thankyou to everyone who has read this blog. Please leave a comment of your opinions and experiences.