Football coach Judan Ali on tackling racism in the beautiful game
PUBLISHED: 09:57 14 June 2012
The alarming undercurrent of racism in football seems to be a topic finally up for discussion but for one aspiring coach it has always been around.
Judan Ali is on a mission to help more Asian youths forge decent careers in the sport. He has been holding training sessions for under 16s in the Goals Soccer Centre in Dagenham Leisure Park, Ripple Road, since September and believes there is an abundance of young talent from certain communities that is simply not being nurtured.
With reports of racism at grounds in Poland and Ukraine, currently co-hosting Euro 2012, the disturbing issue of players being targeted because of their ethnic background is more prominent than ever.
The basis for Mr Ali’s goal to highlight and encourage Asian involvement in the beautiful game stems, sadly, from his own experiences trying to make it as a professional footballer.
Growing up in Brick Lane in the 1970s and ’80s, Mr Ali was – as many youngsters are – mad for football and enjoyed a spell at Arsenal as a youth trainee. But when he later tried to progress his career, he said he faced verbal abuse targeted at his mixed South Asian background and was consistently told that Asian players do not succeed in football.
He believes he would have made it as a professional player if it was not for this intolerance.
Mr Ali, 38, now holds sessions for youth teams across several east and north London boroughs and is also in talks with major clubs to secure serious backing for his cause.
He told the Post: “When I was growing up football definitely wasn’t seen as an Asian sport. I heard so many things, like you should be working at a newsagents or, on the flip side, become a doctor, lawyer, accountant. Racism is still happening every day, in every match, across every league. The clubs have got better and it’s not as rife and open, but it’s there to prevent people coming into the sport, as it was back then.”
Mr Ali is part of an ethnic diversity team working for the Football Association which he says is about “actively seeking people from within ethnic communities to come together and brainstorm ways to move English football forward”.
Earlier this year the Prime Minister raised the issue of racial intolerance in the game.
In February David Cameron hosted an anti-discrimination summit at Downing Street, which was attended by FA chairman David Bernstein and former players including Graeme Le Saux and John Barnes.
Mr Cameron said at the time: “We have some problems still today. We need to act quickly to make sure those problems do not creep back in.”
In a bid to increase the number of black and minority ethnic players in the sport, the government is contributing £3million towards the FA’s National Coaching Centre. As part of his own objective, Mr Ali runs up to 10 training sessions a week, including the ones at Goals Soccer Centre Dagenham.
He wants to raise funds to make the Dagenham sessions a more regular fixture and aims to provide them at weekends and after school. Eventually, he wants to organise cultural exchanges between young players in London boroughs and those in South Asian countries.
While he backs action from government and football juggernauts to push the sport into becoming truly representative, he also thinks we must look closer to home.
The role of families in preventing their children going further in the game has played its part in the lack of South Asian players in the top leagues today, Mr Ali believes, and he faced problems within his own family over his career choice.
“When Asian children are showing signs of excelling in a certain sport, for example, their parents are telling them, ‘we never got accepted’”, he said. “Maybe two generations of British Asian kids have suffered for what their parents went through. But irrespective of whether my mother or my aunts and uncles supported me, it wouldn’t have changed how I progressed, because I was never accepted on merit.”
One of the biggest myths the sportsman wants to dispel is that football is not as widely played or revered in South Asian communities as much as other sports, such as cricket.
He said: “If you advertise a trial in any part of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mauritius, Maldives, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford – anywhere where there’s a predominant Asian mix – and you advertise trials for cricket and football, I would guarantee that football would come out number one. When football is made accessible there will be a blitz of youngsters from those countries.”
A prestigious youth tournament held last year, in which Mr Ali visited India to pick a team, proves his point. With the backing of Indian steel firm Tata, which provided a sum in the region of £2m for trials across the length and breadth of the country, 16 boys were brought to England to compete in the under-15s Arsenal International Soccer Festival.
Despite competing against seasoned youth groups from across the world, the team won.
“We only held a two-week trial (in India) and 20,000 kids showed up,” Mr Ali said. “I could have done the same thing with an Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani team here, definitely. I went to India to make even more of a statement.”
Mr Ali says the problem is not enough top clubs are investing in nurturing talent at home.
“They say they’ve got scouts in local communities – I think that’s a load of garbage. They are money-motivated. They don’t want to spend on bringing children through an academy when they can buy ready-made players from overseas.”
And while improving chances for young Asian players is his priority, he also believes more needs to be done to help British youths overall.
“Football is more a business now. They need to outreach more into local communities, not just Asian, but every age, class, gender.
“What I think the future holds for Asians in this country is people like myself identifying and working with Premier League clubs and setting up development centres which encourage more Asian kids and parents to come forward. Then we will see an influx of more successful Asian footballers.”
n To get involved in training sessions or to offer funding suggestions contact Andy on 07958 901873 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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