FOOTBALL: Asians make slight impression

Jonathan Foster sees a match that could prove a watershed for Asian footballers
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The Independent Online
Characteristic Asian fragrancies have hung in the air around Valley Parade for three generations, but the fenugreek and coriander had a special piquancy yesterday. The community had taken over it's football ground.

A UK Asian XI lost 3-1 to a Bradford City team, watched by a crowd of 1,639, a mediocre performance before a disappointing attendance which may nevertheless mark a watershed in the development of football in the Asian community.

Analagous almost to a first-class cricket fixture, the match was formal evidence of what the astute observer would have noticed in Bradford streets. British Asians,their fantasies captured by televised images, are playing more and more football.

The phenomenon raises the same questions as cricket.Why, apart from Ricky Heppolette of seasons past, have British Asians failed to win employment in professional sport?

Bradford boys in the crowd believed there were racist prejudices against them, but the evidence was circumstantial. Professional coaches and scouts admitted Asian boys, their physiques and instincts comparatively less muscular, may suffer. But City, and the increasing number of Asians who watch their games regularly, claim barriers are more subtle, cultural rather than discriminatory.

"The emphasis from our parents was always to get an education and a professional qualification," said a property company executive whose advertisement hoarding decorates the Kop. "Sport was never encouraged."

Aurangzab Iqbal noticed the growing interest in football and organised yesterday's fixture as a showcase for Asian talent, an introduction for football to the disorganised potential just beyond the turnstiles. And as a medium for improving race relations in a city recently disturbed by skirmishes between police and Asian youth, the world's universal game had obvious potential.

Mr Iqbal, an enterprising Bradford solicitor, predicted Asians could soon break through. "They want to become involved in every aspect of the game. There are three million in Britain and, by 2000, 50 per cent of school leavers in Bradford will be Asian. Professional clubs cannot ignore them."

Few will have caught the eye of professional scouts yesterday. From the 1,000 who sought trials for the Asian XI after Mr Iqbal advertised on an Asian satellite channel, Imran Ashraf, from London, looked neat and skilful,though unable to influence the game significantly.

His team-mates looked what they were, clever recreational players outpaced and outmanoeuvred by a City XI which included experienced players like Andy Kiwomya, Gary Robson and Steve Foley.

The Asian team should have lost more heavily, but Tariq Hussein enchanted a predominantly Asian Kop with a clever run ended illegally by goalkeeper Steve Harper. Davinder Bachra, the captain, scored the penalty, and became briefly the focus of what may become a familiar sight, an Asian footballer saluted from English terraces.