Minorities face 'wall' in soccer

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The Independent Online
"DO YOU know the one about why Asians can't play football?" asks Aurangzeb Iqbal. "Because every time they get a corner, they want to build a shop!"

Iqbal, a successful Bradford solicitor, has a wicked line in self-deprecating humour. He also has a passionate love of football and a dream of seeing Asians playing at the highest level.

Next Sunday, thanks to his passion and persistence, an Asian UK XI will take on Second Division Bradford City in a challenge match.

"Asian kids are passionate about football," says Iqbal, "yet they are ignored by managers and scouts. I hope this match acts as a catalyst, to persuade people about the talent that exists in the Asian community. I hope one day to see kids wearing shirts with Khan or Singh on the back just as they have Cantona or Collymore today."

That day may still be some time away. In a week in which Gordon Taylor, secretary of the Professional Footballers Association, made an emotional plea to the TUC conference to "kick racism out of football", attitudes within the game towards Asian players revealed the distance that needs to be travelled.

There is only one professional Asian player today: Chris Dolby of Bradford City. Explanations for the lack of Asians in professional football tend to be even more bizarre and irrational than those trotted out 20 years ago to explain the then dearth of Afro-Caribbeans in the game.

"You hear about Asian players stopping practice to say their prayers," one West Ham official told a newspaper earlier this year. "They're different from us, have a different culture."

Luton youth coach Terry Westley said that "they have a problem with their build, which is very slight, and they don't like the physical element". He worried that "their eating habits are also a problem". Such arguments make interesting reading in the context of Roger Bannister's comments last week as to why black athletes do better than whites. Just as it is easier to put down their performances to anatomical superiority, so it is easier to explain the lack of professional Asian footballers in physical or cultural terms.

For Asian players, however, the real problem lies in social attitudes. "If you are Asian you have to be 100 times better than white players to get noticed," says Parvais Shah, considered by many to be the best amateur player in Yorkshire. "You have to play well every game."