'Fans for Diversity' aiming to increase Asian presence in matchday crowds
Neil Ashton has written the following article for the Daily Mail about Asian participation in English football:
There is an image from Stamford Bridge on Saturday, when Mark Yeates scored Bradford City’s fourth goal, that suggests a cultural shift is taking place in the game.
A few rows behind Petr Cech’s goal, a dozen or so Asian football fans prepare to celebrate the Bantams’ magnificent victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup fourth round. It is a sign of progress.
There is an obvious lack of Asian representation among supporters at football matches across the country and yet very little has been done to challenge the social, cultural and historical barriers that exist.
To take Bradford as an example, 26.8 per cent (140,149) of the local population are considered Asian or Asian/British according to the statistics published in the Government’s 2011 census.
Many live in the immediate areas surrounding Bradford’s stadium Valley Parade, such as Manningham, Bradford Moor, City, Little Horton and Toller. So far the club has barely scratched the surface.
With a full-time staff of just 12 (outside of the manager, coaches and playing staff) the club have never had the resources to target a specific area of the local community. The Asian population remains largely untapped.
Of the 14,000 people who regularly attend Bradford’s home games, only a handful watching Phil Parkinson’s team at Valley Parade are of Asian origin.
The BanglaBantams’ Twitter feed, who describe themselves as ‘a group of supporters from the heart of the city following our local team’, was activated last week and has 51 followers.
So why not more, and why aren’t more Asian families attending matches at Bradford City and beyond?
‘We have never done any specific targeting of any particular area of our fan base, but we have tried to make it affordable for families,’ admitted Bradford’s co-chairman Julian Rhodes.
Seven years ago season tickets at Valley Parade were capped at £138, among the cheapest in the country to watch 23 home games when the team were in League Two. This season they are just £199.
‘Bradford is a very poor area, with some of the poorest supporters in the country, but the atmosphere in recent times has been electric,’ added Rhodes.
‘It is not intimidating for Asian football fans and I don’t think there are any cultural issues. When we got to the Capital One Cup final against Swansea, the whole city got behind the team.’
On Monday evening, when BBC’s Look North programme took to the streets of Bradford to vox pop the residents about their famous FA Cup win, they spoke to people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Despite this approach, there is still a good deal of negativity about the matchday experience, particularly because of the ridicule from opposition supporters.
Singing ‘you’re just a town full of p****’ is just not acceptable.
In the 1990s, it was not unheard of to be in a stand with supporters singing ‘I would rather be a p*** than a Manc’ when a team played Manchester United. Attitudes like that breed resentment and fear.
In the streets surrounding Bradford’s stadium, young Asian children will play football between the parked cars as a part of their recreation.
When it comes to matchday, they are forced inside when their parents, usually first or second generation Asians, pull them off the streets.
There are various bodies at work, with the Fans for Diversity campaign launched last year by Kick It Out and the Football Supporters Federation to promote integration and acceptance.
Anwar Uddin, who spent six years playing alongside Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and Leon Britton in the West Ham youth team, has committed his career to the subject.
Uddin is employed as diversity and campaigns manager at the Football Supporters’ Federation and Kick It Out, reaching out to the communities of clubs all over the country to promote the game in different areas.
During his playing days at Dagenham, where he was captain for much of his six years at the club, his friends were once forced to leave a game at half-time because of racial insults on the terraces.
Today he visits community leaders and Mosques, reassuring them that the matchday environment of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties has been replaced with a friendlier, family experience.
‘I visited a community centre called BEAP, which is adjacent to the stadium in Bradford and there are so many positive attitudes towards the game,’ admitted Uddin.
‘During the day there were 60 Asian lads between the ages of 6-15 playing football, but when it comes to matchday they all disappear into their houses.
‘To learn the game, to have a better understanding of it, these guys need to watch the matches and experience them.’
Uddin’s work takes him elsewhere, to other areas of the country densely populated with Asians.
In Luton, football has an increasing influence in the lives of young Asian kids, but the numbers are not reflected on matchday at Kenilworth Road.
‘There are a lot of politics in the area and the English Defence League is a problem,’ revealed Uddin.
He is undeterred and speaks with remarkable enthusiasm as he charges around the country speaking to different groups about the future of the game on behalf of the Football Supporters’ Federation and Kick It Out.
Next month the FA will release a delayed report into Asian participation in the game, with a particular emphasis on the number of players at grassroots and professional level.
On matchday, it is equally important to promote social inclusion and acceptance as the game moves into another era.
At Bradford City, that will be the other big story in town.
From the Daily Mail