Grassroots football key to Asian players coming through, says Dr Daniel Kilvington

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Dr Kilvington says more grassroots football opportunities will increase the chances of a South Asian playing for England internationally

More grassroots support will prove key to a player from the Asian community eventually turning out for England, says the country’s leading academic on the subject, Dr Daniel Kilvington.

Out of approximately 3,700 footballers playing professionally in England and Wales last season, just 12 were of Asian heritage. This represents a lowly 0.3 per cent of the total, despite British Asians constituting approximately five per cent of the population in this country.

Hamza Choudhury on the ball for England
Image: Hamza Choudhury turned out for England at the U21 Euros earlier this year

While many Asian-origin players - including the likes of Hamza Choudhury, Adil Nabi, Easah Suliman and Yan Dhanda - have turned out for England youth level, an Asian footballer is yet to win full international honours with England.

Dr Kilvington has spent a decade researching Asians in Football and the Leeds-Beckett University senior lecturer published a book on the subject, British Asians, Exclusion and the Football Industry, back in 2016.

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Former Newcastle and Sunderland striker Michael Chopra says there's a need for more Asian footballers at all levels of the English game

He believes Asian youngsters are often overlooked by scouting networks and need better access to grassroots football if their numbers are to grow across the wider game in this country in years to come.

"I hope we won't be having this argument in 10 or 12 years' time [about the under-representation of British-Asian players across the game] and I hope we see in that time somebody who is playing for England," Dr Kilvington told Sky Sports News.

"I think the problem is that there are a lack of opportunities at grassroots level, and historically - within predominantly British Asian areas - the focus is on adult teams rather than grassroots teams for younger girls and boys.

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"We see that changing across the country, which is very promising. So, in Bradford there are now tots teams for U4s.

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Neil Taylor says it is difficult to answer why British Asian players are few and far between but says he is hopeful that in the next generation many more will make the breakthrough

"And I think that if you are going to be a professional footballer, for example, you have got to be getting your hours in from the age of four or five years old. That's the nature of the business. So things are changing, but very slowly."

Former Birmingham FA equality officer and local Imam Obayed Hussain is heavily involved in grassroots football across the Midlands, founding the Ramadan Midnight Football League in 2018 before co-founding Birmingham-based amateur club Saltley Stallions.

Hussain believes the only way to address the under-representation of Asian players at the elite level is to focus on the issues at grassroots first.

"Everyone usually asks "when are we going to see an Asian player playing for the England national team?' I think that is a great question to ask, but for me it is all about a bottom-up approach," he told Sky Sports News.

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Former Birmingham FA equality officer and local Imam Obayed Hussain wants to see an improvement in grassroots football to find a new Asian Jamie Vardy

"Let's fix grassroots football first then filter our way into non-league. Then we can talk about playing at a professional level, and then from a professional level, going on to represent your country and your nation.

"Rather than thinking about when are we going to see an Asian England international let's talk about when are we going to see the next Asian non-league player, or one has won a non-league award or has made the transition from non-league to professional [football]].

"When are we going to see an Asian Jamie Vardy? Everyone says 'when we are going to see an Asian Harry Kane or an Asian England international?'

"Let's talk about when we are going to see a grassroots player moving from grassroots into non-league. And then from non-league let's see if they can get into the professional [game]."

The latest instalment of our 'Tackling Racism' series on Sky Sports News can be seen on Monday September 2, hosted by Dharmesh Sheth and focusing on British Asians in football.

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