APSA is the Shining Light for future
EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms this week discusses the talents and success of local Asian footballers, in his exclusive Recorder column. He writes: IN August, the first of what is planned to be an annual football tournament was held on a ground in Redbridge.
EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms this week discusses the talents and success of local Asian footballers, in his exclusive Recorder column.
IN August, the first of what is planned to be an annual football tournament was held on a ground in Redbridge. The unusual thing is it was named after me! I should explain.
As West Ham Manager, Harry Redknapp said he wanted the club to be the first in the Premiership with an Asian player. Eight years after he left, there is still no Asian player in any of the top four tiers of the English game. Why such a stark contrast to the success of black players? The reasons have been long debated.
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But there are Asian players making progress. Perhaps the most successful are in a local team, London APSA (APSA: Asian Players Sports Association). The team was formed in 1993, at the same time as creation of the first Asian Football League (AFL). A group of friends from Newham College merged with a local youth team, Young Muslims, who were no longer eligible to play under 16's football. Brought together by the current club chairman, Zulfi Ali, APSA, then known as Ahle Sunnah, were the first ever-Asian League Champions.
The team continued to participate, with some success, in Asian run competitions. In April 1999 the club reached a turning point, becoming serious about making a mark in mainstream football. The trigger was a soccer trip to Pakistan by a team which was essentially Manchester-based but also included both Zulfi Ali and current APSA Vice-Chairman, Anjum Khan, bringing them together for the first time.
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APSA went on to win the Umbro International Tournament Manchester, Business Houses League and Cup Premier Division, the Asian Football League and the UK Asian Championships. But the goal was mainstream senior football. In 2003 the club joined Forrester's Essex Senior League, playing home matches at Terence Macmillan stadium, Newham Leisure Centre. And in 2005 APSA, along with Sporting Bengal of Mile End, were the first Asian teams to play in the FA Cup. The Recorder reports their progress. Since 2008, APSA has been generously sponsored by local letting agency Finefair.
APSA sees their role as larger than just short term success. They are serious about developing Asian talent. So in August - kindly acknowledging my occasional assistance - they hosted the inaugural Stephen Timms and London APSA Community Cup, with eight teams from Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest, together with a guest team from Wolverhampton, Punjab United, who went on to lift the trophy by beating Forest Gate 3-2 in the final.
Zulfi Ali comments: "Over the years there has been a great amount of investment and hard work in Asian football at the adult level and it's essential that this is done at a youth level too. We need to focus on youth football so we can develop Asian talent from an early age."
With the passion, commitment and enthusiasm of those in APSA, perhaps it won't be too long before Asian youngsters can have posters of Singh, Patel and Khan on their walls alongside Beckham and Ronaldo.