Q. Where will the ZRF be in five years’ time?
ZESH: “We started off just over a year ago and have grown from just one local primary school in Bradford and now we run programmes in Manchester and London as well as Bradford. We didn’t want to try and do too much too soon though and we’re not going to change the world but we wanted to make that pocket of difference where we can. In five years’ time we hope to have more affiliations with football clubs like Crystal Palace and hopefully we’d like to positively affect the lives of many more children. We want to be doing this here in the UK but also overseas.”
Q. What programmes are available on dietary needs?
ZESH: “If you play any sport, what you put into your body is vital. At the foundation, this is one area that we’re starting to now cover as we work with the Liverpool FC club doctor who is the ZRF diet consultant. We run a programme called ‘Get Up, Get Moving’ and hopefully, the kids on the programme will get up and get moving.”
Q. What advice would you give for parents who have little money and big families to look after?
ZESH: ‘I’m one of six kids and luckily for me, but unluckily for my sisters, they went without while I got boots and football equipment. Not everyone will have the finances to travel around though. So, there was a time when I’d get up before school and do a paper round to help towards money for football boots. It wasn’t a lot, only ten or 15 pounds a week but again it comes back to doing something for yourself. You’ve got to try and change your circumstances and you can do it yourself.”
Q. How can you get your parents to support you?
ZESH: “There’s no specific answer, but I realised that I wanted to play football at an early age. My mum realised that when every ornament in the house was broken, that this is what I wanted to do. Again, your actions can do the talking. It does depend on your parents though and whether they have a little bit of interest in the sport. I was fortunate as my dad did go to watch the games at Villa Park in the 70s and 80s when football hooliganism was at its prime. His love for the game filtered down to me. You can help them though by telling about the game, encourage them to come and watch you play and try and get them to take an interest in what you're doing. There are some players who make it without parental support so to say that this is a main barrier is not a good enough excuse.”
Q. Why do you think there are so few Asian in the professional game?
I don’t think you can say there is one definite reason why more Asian players haven’t made it to the top level. During my 10 years of professional football in England, I have seen a slow increase in British Asians participating in football at the grass roots level. However, there are a number of reasons that we can consider as to why they have not made the progress into professional football. Firstly there is definitely a shortage of Role models for aspiring young British Asian kids to look up to, associate with and aspire to be like. I do think we need to see more British Asians coming out of their comfort zones and playing in the competitive leagues with people from other backgrounds, which are mainly white British. Playing within your own communities on a recreational level (which you see a lot off) will not help their football development.
Q. Were you the subject of racial abuse throughout your career?
Coming through the system was very difficult for me. There was a lot of negativity I had to deal with, there was a lot of doubt from coaches as to whether I would make it and I had to get through that. For most young players, doubts whether they have the capacity to succeed at the highest level or not are commonly focused on their desire to succeed or simply their ability. For me though, it was directed more at my cultural heritage. It was a recurring theme that Asians don’t play football, that our diet is not suited to the demands of the game. I encountered racism on several occasions at a young age and it can potentially deter kids from progressing and even from enjoying the game. I adopted a mindset of basically rising above the abuse and using it as motivational fuel to prove people wrong. It can be difficult to just brush racist comments under the carpet but it makes you realise racism stems from ignorance and lack of education. Anyone who experiences racism should report it to a parent, teacher, coach or even the police as it is totally unacceptable in football, as well as society. At a Professional level I have experienced some racism – mainly from fans.