Smethwick's Sikh heartbeat gives grassroots football a voice
Birmingham-based football stars past and present joined a cast of grassroots and community activists for an historic night at Smethwick Gurdwara yesterday (25 April).
Held in the shadows of West Bromwich Albion’s Hawthorns Stadium, Baggies icon Brendon Batson, Walsall full-back Malvind Benning and ex-Saddler Netan Sansara, headlined ‘One Game Smethwick’, the first professional football debate to be held inside a Sikh Temple.
The event, run in conjunction with Birmingham County FA and supported by West Bromwich Albion in the Community, brought together an audience from across the area, and offered attendees an insight into how crucial Smethwick Gurdwara is in promoting tolerance and inclusion, through sport, in and around the local community.
“The Temple has been key in these areas for many years,” said Buta Singh, who heads up the British Asian Club Championships, and sat alongside Gurinder Singh Josan, a representative of the Smethwick Gurdwara committee, at the top table with Marni Sidhu, a teacher and coach in Coventry, Mick Tuohy from Sandwell Leisure Trust and Jasbir Batt of Birmingham County FA.
Prior to the forum, a sixty-strong congregation of guests were given a guided tour of the Temple, and shown how the facility is used each and every day.
Sansara, now plying his trade in Cyprus at PAEEK FC, is one of only a handful of British Asians who have broken through to the professional ranks, and talked candidly about the role religion plays. “I’m a Sikh boy. Even in Cyprus, my faith isn’t left to fallow. There is a Temple nearby which I use, and is good for when my family comes to visit. My faith is just as important as my football and I give both equal billing in my life.”
Benning, who has just signed a professional contract with League One side Walsall, spoke of his pride at making the grade and representing the local community. “I’m in the early stages of my career and hearing from people like Netan, who was at Walsall when I was just starting out, is inspiring. His work with organisations such as Kick It Out demonstrated to me how important this area of work is, away from just the playing side.”
Speaking about the importance of working closely with parents at the grassroots level of the game, Sidhu, who will be representing Kick It Out and the Black and Asian Coaches Association (BACA) at the Grass Roots Football Show next month, said: “In my role as a coach, communicating with parents is absolutely essential. This extends to being on hand to ferry youngsters to and from training sessions, when there parents are unable to do this themselves.”
Tuhoy, a qualified referee and chairman of the Sandwell Minor League, praised Smethwick Gurdwara for the way it engages with the local community: “I’ve worked in the area for over two decades, and I’ve seen a palpable change in the demographic of people working in this field. The changes I’ve seen have been dramatic. There are more posts held by women at the Trust than ever before, and more Asians participating in and on the receiving end of work that we deliver. Institutions like Smethwick Gurdwara play an important role in this.”
These thoughts were echoed by Batt, a relative newcomer with just four years experience in his position at the County FA. He concluded: “It’s our job at The FA to be open and accessible to anyone. Getting youngsters into organised football can help us track how successful our efforts have been.”