You can count them on one hand. Hamza Choudhury and Neil Taylor are the only British Asian players (from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh heritage) in the Premier League. Further down the footballing pyramid their numbers are just as scarce, while at non-league level, Asian player numbers are also small.
Talented twin brothers Amar and Arjun Purewal play in non-league football and their experiences offer a ray of hope for Asian players.
Amar Purewal (c) in a friendly against Liverpool U23s
Achieving recognition at Asian Football Awards were former Darlington striker Amar Purewal, alongside twin brother and Consett AFC captain Arjun. Waqas Azam of Chorley FC completed the trio nominated for the non-league player award, which Amar eventually won.
On the books at Newcastle United, Amar was released in 2004. “I was flying that season, playing well and scoring goals but unfortunately picked up a quad injury and couldn’t get my form back after returning. I was gutted when I was released. The feedback I got was I wouldn’t affect the reserves so they thought it would be best for me to leave the club,” he recalled.
Undeterred, Amar continued his football, playing non-League with Ryhope Colliery Welfare FC in 2005, Newcastle Benfield 2006, Bishop Auckland 2007-2009 Durham City 2010-2012, Darlington 2012-2016, Shildon 2016, then West Auckland FC. In all that time, apart from his brother Arjun, he rarely came across any Asian players or coaches. The brothers also played together at Durham City and Darlington.
Hamza Choudhury is one of only two British Asian players in the Premier League
“With being from up north I saw no Asian football coaches at all up here and came across the odd one or two Asian(players), not many at all. It didn’t really impact me too much. I enjoyed being the only Asian up here playing football. Got recognised more in younger ages,” continued Amar.
“We weren’t treated any differently at all, was quite popular when we played, me and my brother were maybe cos of ability and being a little different. (There are) not many Asians in non-League football up here at all. There’s a lot more down south in Birmingham and London.”
Whereas in the 70’s, first generation British Asian children had to battle with their parents to engage with football, subsequent generations received an empathetic understanding because these British Asian parents were football fans too. They went to games, and when older, took their children, built up the rapport and an affinity with a club started.
It has taken a generation, or two to get here, but now matters are progressing, and that has been the experience of Coventry City fans Amar and Arjun, who despite tragically losing their father, were able to rely on the support of their mother when it came to going to matches and training.
In a minority of two British Asian players in the top flight. Aston Villa’s Neil Taylor
“We went to games as supporters. We support Coventry, we always went to games with my cousin as dad passed away when we were 10 years old. Been to a lot of games and only made you more determined to succeed. We went to Wembley when Coventry won the Checkatrade Trophy. Got goose bumps as the players came onto the pitch.
“Our mother took us to most if not every game/training. She’s our hero and we couldn’t of achieved anything we have without her help and sacrifice she made for us both. Blessed to have her!”
To increase Asian participation, the challenge for club coaches is to effectively engage with Asian communities to witness and benefit from the high level of football interest there, and offer trials. However, the numbers suggest that clubs tend to look elsewhere. So would a Rooney rule for Asian players be a step in the right direction?
“I think the Rooney rule would be a good idea as it’s important to consider any race or minority of people for roles at clubs. I believe there is definitely talent out there but it isn’t getting noticed. Maybe employing Asian scouts for clubs and holding trial days for Asians if considered good enough,” noted Arjun who alongside his brother have represented Panjab FC.
The Purewals have competed for Panjab FC
Over the last two decades Asian participation rates have increased hugely and generational change, adaptations and support are more there than ever. Why more Asian players are not involved at the elite level is something that needs to be further investigated, which the FA have been keen to do.
In 2015, they initiated a three year plan to address the under representation of Asians in football. Well attended nationally held forums on how to best proceed were very successful. The FA are now on track to achieve their targets, data from which will be released to monitor progression.
If this leads to greater Asian inclusion in football and true equality for player and coach recruitment, then the Purewal brothers will be best placed to benefit from this, while acting as role models for subsequent generations of British Asians seeking footballing opportunities.