Football: Still waiting for a role model

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The Independent Online
"It just needs one," Shakeel Allad repeated the battle hymn of aspiring Asian footballers the length of the country. Give them a role model and the copies will appear in their hundreds, writes Guy Hodgson.

Allad, 19, plays his football in Batley and to a degree conforms to stereotype in that it is an ethnic minority team that he turns out for. But the other sides in the Spenn Valley & District League are from across the rainbow of colours; Islamic FC are an Asian team playing against white and blacks.

"If I play for Huddersfield I know that half the people from where I'm from would come and watch," he said. "It would be `look at Shakeel, he was earning pennies in Leeds. Now he's turning out for Town, we ought to support him'."

Allad says that racism is on the retreat although he has felt the strength of bigot-driven tackles in the past as well as heard the shouts of prejudice from the sidelines. "It's like an Afro-Caribbean boy going out with a white girl 20 years ago," he said. "Then it would have caused a shock, now people are more prepared to accept it as it becomes more common. Things are improving."

So, too, is the standard of play. "Asians try to be like five-a-side footballers when they go into the 11-a-side game. It's all pansy pass- pass stuff, but we are learning to compete physically. I think they retreated to five-a-side because they were being roughed up when they played out of their ethnic group.

"When I started playing the attitude was either `what's he doing with them, he's only there to make up the numbers' or `kick him, he won't like the tough stuff'. Now it's `you're good enough to play in a non- Asian team'."

Attitudes in the Asian community are also changing. Ilyas Lunat, who runs Islamic, has perceived a change in terms of parental ambition. "You have to remember that most first generation Asians came from poor backgrounds and their priority was to make a living. They steered their children towards professions like the law or medicine because they believed that was where the money was. I think people are re-evaluating their opinions."

Now it just remains for footballing society to do the same.