We talked to Anwar about one of the big topics in football
Anwar Uddin (pictured far left) is an ex-West Ham United & Dagenham and Redbridge footballer who is a patron and Hall of Fame Member of the Show Racism the Red Card campaign. Anwar was the first British Asian to captain a football club in the top four divisions of English football and has recently begun working for the SRtRC campaign in the East & South-East of England.
The under-representation of Asians in professional football is a big issue for the sport. Millions of British Asian young people play the game, but very few get professional contracts with clubs.
How do we increase participation of British Asians in professional football?
“Throughout my career I have kept a close eye on the progression of Asians in football across the UK. At first I stood alone, but was shortly followed by Zesh Rehman and Michael Chopra and all of a sudden there was a buzz about the topic. Clubs and communities were actively encouraging Asians in football and with the use of us as role models and clubs realising the potential of the large untapped talent pool on their doorstep, I like many thought the conveyer belt would burst into action.
“Sadly that was not the case and although the numbers of grass roots players have increased - in fact currently in the UK Asian grass roots football is thriving - the transition into mainstream clubs just hasn’t materialised. The million dollar question is why?
“Well first of all every boy born wants to be the next Rooney and you’re competing against the rest of the world so it's no mean feat. Regardless of who you are, regardless of nationality or skin colour it's so very hard. It's a slower process, but I firmly believe the conveyer belt is up and running just slower than anticipated. Further more, just as the Asian family has integrated and become part of British culture, families are now encouraging and supporting their children in the pursuit of a contract at Arsenal or Man Utd which is different to when I was growing up. I noticed this first hand with the football academies I run in London. Parents want to do everything in their power to support their child which goes against the old saying that we all want our kids to be doctors or lawyers, (although I hope my son becomes a lawyer!).
“One thing that I have noticed which on the surface is fantastic; is the Asian football leagues, the Asian summer schools and Asian academies. This is great for an initial education, but there is a risk of the whole thing being too insular. It's always nice to be in a comfortable environment among friends, but to be the best you have to venture into the unknown. The talent is there, the desire is there, we just need a little help and luck and Asians will be represented on and off the pitch in and around the circumference of our game.”
How can football clubs encourage more members of Asian communities onto the terraces?
“I feel clubs all around the country need to encourage the Asian community into their grounds and understand that there may be a little fear or intimidation and do all that they can to make it a safe pleasurable experience.
“Years ago the number of females and children in football were low but have increased dramatically, so have the number of Asian fans, but there is room for so many more. When I went to my first game the abuse I heard made me question if I wanted any part of this sport. It's different now and with the work that we do at Show Racism the Red Card people should be encouraged by that, knowing we all want the terraces to be a place where we can enjoy football and all the players agree with the support for our campaign.
“In a recent TV programme about racism I learned of the Punjabi Wolves which are a great example of Asians getting involved, conquering the fear and implementing a little of their culture into the club - a group we can all take heart from. It's the best place to be if you’re a football fan, so nothing should stop you and clubs should do all they can, as well as fellow fans, to make it comfortable for all.”
Do you have a view on how Asian music icons can use their position to engage with fans?
“The Asian music scene is something I have been extremely proud of and the UK has embraced our music, you just have to look at the charts or go to a concert. There have been Asian icons making music in all sorts of genres and I feel it is so important we promote our icons and they use there experience and success to reach out to all their fans whenever possible. When the number of role models is low it is so important we take pride in the few we have across the board. The power and influence they have is very underestimated and is a powerful tool that can be used to push many in the correct position.”