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Diwali: Tottenham legend Ledley King on trailblazer Dilan Markanday as Blackburn host celebrations

Former Spurs player Dilan Markanday destined to thrive in game, says club legend Ledley King; Sky Sports brings up 100 weeks of producing British South Asians in Football content by going into the community as millions of Hindus, Sikhs & Jains worldwide celebrate Diwali festival of lights

Ledley King Markanday

Spurs legend Ledley King says history-making Hindu-Punjabi youngster Dilan Markanday is a "standout" talent who is destined to have a bright future in the game.

Almost a year ago to the day, Markanday smashed a glass ceiling when he featured in a Europa Conference League tie away at Vitesse, becoming the first British South Asian to play for Tottenham Hotspur in 140 years of club history.

But a week later, the manager who gave him his debut, Nuno Espirito Santo, was replaced by Antonio Conte, with Markanday opting to join Blackburn Rovers in January in a bid to kick-start his senior career.

King spent a year as first-team assistant coach to Jose Mourinho, and took time ahead of the Diwali festival of lights - celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains worldwide - to reminisce about his time working with British-Indian Markanday.

"When I was coaching with the first team for a season Dilan was training quite often," King told Sky Sports News at the Black & Lilywhite event celebrating Tottenham's history of black players, hosted by fans' group Spurs REACH.

"And to be honest Dilan was one of the standout players in training all the time.

"He was very good, a very good young player and the manager at the time really liked him as well.

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"The difficulty that the young players have [at Spurs] is trying to get into a team of world-class players, and that is always going to be a difficult challenge.

"But I had no doubt about Dilan, regardless of where that he was going to have a career in the game. He's a very talented young player."

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Tottenham's Chris Powell praised Dilan Markanday and his family, insisting there is plenty of footballing talent in Britain's South Asian community that is ready to enter the game

Spurs REACH, which stands for Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage, were co-founded by Sash Patel Fahim Rahman, and Anwar Uddin in May as an official fans' organisation associated to the club with the aim of championing equality.

Spurs REACH
Image: Spurs REACH held their first in-person event after being formed earlier this year

Award-winning British rapper AJ Tracey joined panellists including Tottenham assistant manager Chris Powell and former England centre-back King for the Spurs REACH event, hosted by leading diversity campaigner Troy Townsend at the Beavertown Taproom in the South Stand at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Club ambassador King hopes the group will "make a difference" to the next generation of fans from diverse and under-represented ethnic backgrounds.

"The area where we are in Tottenham, we want our fans to reflect that and to be proud of their football club and to address situations they feel need to be addressed.

"It's really important for them to have a voice and to be able to speak about certain situations. Hopefully it can make a difference for the next generation."

Ewood Park hosts Raise Your Game Rovers ahead of Diwali

Rovers Raise Your Game event
Image: Blackburn Rovers hosted a Raise Your Game launch event at Ewood Park

More than 500 ethnically diverse supporters gathered at Ewood Park on Saturday for Blackburn's clash with Birmingham City, two days ahead of the Diwali festival, representing the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness.

A day of festivities began with a 'Raise Your Game Rovers' event, supported by Kick It Out and the Football Supporters' Association through the Fans for Diversity campaign - highlighting opportunities to break into the game. It's the first in a series of completely free events aiming to boost South Asian representation in football.

Rovers chief executive Steve Waggott personally welcomed guests to Ewood Park - alongside integration and development manager Yasir Sufi, and head of operations, Lynsey Talbot, who were both instrumental in Rovers winning the inaugural Diversity accolade at this year's EFL Awards.

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Blackburn Rovers' Integration and Development Manager Yasir Sufi and Head of Operations Lynsey Talbot reacted to the club landing the EFL Diversity award, and looked ahead to Ewood Park hosting Eid Day prayers

Fans for Diversity chief Anwar Uddin MBE, PFA player inclusion executive Riz Rehman, and Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari were joined on the first panel by Dev Trehan, who explained how Sky Sports has built the first mainstream media platform dedicated to British South Asians in Football.

Markanday, Choudhury, Iqbal

It is now the longest-running major initiative in this space across both football and the media and has been built from scratch by Sky Sports without a single penny in support from the football family.

Birmingham City were represented by Chief Operating Officer Lungi Macebo, technical director Craig Gardner, Blues' head of ticketing Aamir Javaid, and chair of award-winning official club supporters' group Blues 4 All Micky Singh.

A Diwali feast was laid on by the club before traditional Indian dhol drummers welcomed hundreds of South Asian youngsters, who arrived at the ground on the acclaimed Ewood Express service, offering children from local schools and faith centres a subsidised matchday experience.

The dhol players escorted both teams onto the pitch for a game that was also Rovers' designated Rainbow Laces fixture and was supported by the clubs LGBT+ supporters' group Proud Rovers.

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Highlights of the Championship game between Blackburn and Birmingham City

Blackburn ran out 2-1 winners as they moved up to second in the Sky Bet Championship.

How other clubs celebrate Diwali

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Punjabi Rams founder Pav Samra spoke to Sky Sports News about celebrating Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas during lockdown

Fans for Diversity Award winners the Punjabi Rams celebrated Diwali last year by announcing an extension to their commitment to Derby County Women by becoming a shirt sleeve sponsor for the team.

Official Derby County supporters' club the Punjabi Rams chose an auspicious day to announce the partnership, with many Punjabis also celebrating Bandi Chhor Divas.

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports News, Punjabi Rams founder Pav Samra said: "Our relationship with the Derby County women's team dates all the way back to 2015 when they showed amazing allyship with us a fans' group by printing our logo on the back of their first-team kit.

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Derby County Women's winger Kira Rai says she feels lucky to enjoy the support of fans' group the Punjabi Rams

"The Punjabi Rams sponsoring the team's shirt sleeves is more than just a gesture. We're actively demonstrating our belief in a one-club philosophy, while also trying to play our part in supporting the women's game in this country."

Sky Sports News last month revealed that the Punjabi Rams were set to announce they were sponsoring Derby County Women's trailblazer Kira Rai for a fifth consecutive season.

Sikh-Punjabi attacker Rai recently echoed the concerns of former England striker Lianne Sanderson and QPR's Manisha Tailor MBE about the glaring lack of ethnic diversity in women's football, telling Sky Sports News: "A lot more work needs to be put in at the elite level to make it a level playing field for everyone involved."

(L-R) Mal Benning, Kira Rai, Arjan Rakhy and Raikhy's dad (credit: Delraj Takher)
Image: (L-R) Mal Benning, Kira Rai, Arjan Rakhy and Raikhy's dad (credit: Delraj Takher)

Rai last year spoke at a Diwali fundraiser at Villa Park alongside Port Vale play-off hero Mal Benning, former Aston Villa boss John Gregory - and current Villa footballer Arjan Raikhy, who is one of just four professionally-contracted players in the Premier League from a South Asian background.

Punjabi Villans co-founder Monnie Bhullar told Sky Sports News: "We were absolutely delighted to team up with the Aston Villa Foundation for the hugely successful event.

"For us, it's really important as a group that we also champion the British South Asians that are in football. We want to push them, encourage them and raise their profile to help them inspire the next generation.

"Aston Villa have been incredibly supportive of our efforts as a fans' group and we want to build on our relationship with the club for the long-term."

Nigel Boyce FA Youth Cup trophy lift  Punjabi Villans Diwali (credit: Delraj Takher)
Image: Actor Nigel Boyce lifts the FA Youth Cup trophy at the Punjabi Villans Diwali event (credit: Delraj Takher)

Villans Together founder Nilesh Chauhan said Diwali is an opportunity for clubs to stay connected with supporters from across their fanbase.

"There's always a cultural background that everyone has got and Diwali is a part of people's lives and it can be part of football," he told Sky Sports News.

"Villa always do a shout out on Diwali and on any other religious event and other clubs do and should do the same.

"It's great to see because clubs have supporters from all genders and backgrounds and to have your clubs support it means a lot.

"Villa actually make their own personal images with an embedded Villa badge which really means something - it shows the club are really supporting you and you feel connected and people feel connected. It's massive."

Shin Aujla, chair of a West Bromwich Albion's Supporters Group Apna Albion, agreed but added it is very much dependent on the make-up of the club in question.

"Each club will do its own celebration but it depends on the demographic of that club and what the local community is and how integrated they are," Aujla told Sky Sports News.

"A lot of the football clubs have a charity arm and they are the ones that do a lot of the outreach programmes as well.

"Certainly from a West Bromwich Albion point of view it's a big area for Asian families, Indian families, Sikh families, Hindu families so there is a lot of work that goes on locally."

British South Asians in Football

For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and South Asians in the Game blog and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital

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