ZRF coaches line up next to Chelsea FC Foundation coaches
Twenty-five coaches from the Zesh Rehman Foundation’s ‘Sidelined-2-Sidlelines’ programme, joined forces with coaches from the Chelsea FC Foundation to support the delivery of the Chelsea ‘Asian Star’ initiative.
The event is aimed at addressing the lack of Asians in the English game and invites 400 children to the club's start-of-the-art training facility in Surrey on an annual basis to put them through their paces.
The initiative took place for a sixth time earlier this month and there was no lack of interest from the Asian community, with most in attendance coming from a Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan heritage.
"The event is demonstrating to the Asian community that opportunities do exist and that they are here at Chelsea, and other clubs as well, but it is also demonstrating to the football world that there is a huge talent base in the Asian community," said Simon Taylor, Head of the Chelsea FC Foundation.
"You look around and you can see that there are some exceptional players out there. The main aim is to give the kids a fun time and to try to get them involved in football at whatever level that their skills allow them to play at.
"It is about breaking down barriers, getting kids into grassroot clubs and providing talent pathways for the better players as well. Hopefully, we are achieving that.”
"Hopefully, in a few years when there is a bigger population of Asian footballers coming through the academy and grassroots system, we won't need a programme like this and then we'll all be very happy," said Taylor.
The 2011 census revealed that Asians made up 7.5%, - or about 4.2 million people - of the population in England, although there are only eight British-born players from this ethnic group with professional contracts in the country's top four professional divisions.
The Chelsea Asian Star day starts by putting British Asian kids at Under-9, U10, U11 and U12 level through their paces with a series of fitness and skill tests before matches take place on the pristine grass surface at Cobham under the watchful eye of the Premier League side's coaches.
The winners of each age group earn a year at Chelsea's Football Development Centres, a step below the club's academy. Those that impress have the chance to make the step up.
The Zesh Rehman Foundation (ZRF), set up in the name of the former Fulham and Bradford defender, helps to get more Asian coaches and children into the game. The ZRF sent along a number of coaches from its flagship ‘Sidelined-2-Sidelines’ programme, funded by the Premier League and PFA, to the Asian Star event to co-deliver with the Chelsea FC Foundation coaches to gain valuable experience. The ZRF also delivered a short presentation to parents around the importance of ‘parent coach’.
“It was great to see a number of our coaches working closely with the Chelsea coaches to put on a fantastic event.
“We’ve been working closely with the Chelsea FC Foundation for a couple of years now and all the coaches present today have come through a year-long coach education and mentoring programme which we’ve delivered in association with Chelsea.
“The Sidelined-2-Sidelines initiative, coupled with the ‘Asian Star’ event, are two initiatives which other clubs can emulate and we look forward to working closely with our partners at the Premier League and PFA in supporting clubs to bridge the gap in minority communities”, said Riz Rehman, Director at the ZRF.
Alongside providing coaches with the relevant qualifications, the Sidelined-2-Sidlines initiative has also supported coaches to gain employment in coaching and scouting roles with a number of professional clubs including Chelsea, QPR, Fulham and Crystal Palace. The ZRF have also provided on-going mentoring and support to young people and parents who aspire to get into the industry.
Asad Khan, the father of Qasim who won the under 12 age group said: “I think Chelsea have set an example to other clubs in running such an event and I can't speak highly enough in terms of the organization, facilities, coaching standard and ongoing commitment.
“My son has attended on-to-one sessions with the ZRF at the Soccer Schools and they have always provided valuable insight into the steps that parents and kids need to take in order to enjoy all aspects of football.
“I have been particularly impressed with the ZRF's recruitment and training of young coaches who can make a difference at the grass roots level of football, whilst also aligning themselves to professional teams through scouting roles.
On a personal level, any questions or guidance I have sought for my kids has always been forthcoming and that has been hugely appreciated, both by myself and my children.”