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Four lucky students from the Zesh Rehman Foundation (ZRF) won the chance to have a tour of the Liverpool training ground - Melwood.  The youths met the 1st team players, obtained autographs, and more so, were fortunate enough to watch the players train as part of the ZRF's ‘Healthy Active Lifestyle’ programme.  Abdulla, Abid, Osama and Dhanish all from KD Grammar School in Manchester, were the winners of the ZRF poster competition and were selected by the Liverpool 1st Team Club Doctor Zaf Iqbal and Riz Rehman, ceo for the ZRF.

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Dr Zaf with students

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Riz Rehman, Steven Gerrard and Irfan Kawri at Melwood

The ZRF was launched last year by former Fulham, QPR and Bradford City Captain Zesh Rehman with the aim of offering positive opportunities for young people to aspire and excel within the football world.

Recent research from NHS has reported that the majority of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups participating in sports and physical activity is lower than the national average.  Thus, resulting in higher risks of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes, two diseases which are prevalent in BME communities.  One of the main factors contributing to such low levels of participation is a lack of BME role models who have little involvement with organised sporting activities.

Dr Zaf Iqbal was keen to get involved with the ZRF and played a huge role in writing up the programme with the ZRF North-West coordinator Irfan Kawri and experienced teaching staff at KD Grammar School.

Talking about the programme, Dr Zaf said:

"With physical inactivity and obesity on the increase among children in the UK, there is a desperate need to try and halt this worrying trend.  The pilot was a one week cross-curricular programme for students involving PE, Maths and Science, and was to designed to see if we could increase awareness of requirements and promote physical activity among school children. 

"We hoped that by delivering the messages through individuals linked with inspirational role models such as Zesh Rehman and Liverpool FC there would be an added incentive for the children to take interest".

Although Zesh was not present due to his playing commitments in Thailand, he did manage to congratulate the students through Skype. Zesh said:

"We plan to hold more tours and events similar to this in the future. It’s a great way to motivate young people and show them the opportunities available to them if they work hard. 

"As footballers, it’s important we act as good role models and give something back to the community".

Talking about the programme and the Melwood visit, Abid Abu, 12, who is also a Liverpool fan said:

"Since the programme at our school I have already started to do more exercise and watch what I eat. It was a dream to meet all the Liverpool players".

Riz Rehman said: "On behalf of the Foundation I would like to thank Dr Zaf and everyone at Liverpool FC who made us feel very welcome".

A poster on the wall at Zesh Rehman's apartment in Bradford city centre frames a quote from New York business guru Peter A Cohen. Under the heading persistence, it reads: "There is no giant step that does it. It's a lot of little steps."

Rehman, 26, had to climb a number of little steps to become a professional footballer – the only Asian man to play in all four divisions of the English game, including the Premier League. There were times, indeed, when it must have felt more like edging up a rock face.  Sheer determination enabled him to chip away at every obstacle to achieve a debut for Fulham against Liverpool at Anfield in 2004. Now he's offering a helping hand to youngsters from similar backgrounds who might want to follow in his footholds.

The Zesh Rehman Foundation has two aims. One is to address the noticeable under-representation of British-born players with south Asian heritage in the professional game. The other is to promote football as a "pathway to community cohesion" between young people from all cultures. At a time when lurid tabloid headlines have been dwelling on the sleazy off-field activities of a few highly paid international players, Rehman is keen to stress the benefits to youth of what is required to "make it" as a pro in the first place: determination, discipline and diet.

"When I was on the books at Fulham as a teenager, my mum was sent a diet sheet from the club," he recalls. "Out went the curries and in came pasta, fish and chicken for me and my older brother, Rizwan," he recalls. "We have four sisters and they went without any luxuries to help finance our football equipment and the cost of ferrying us around the country, chasing a dream."  Rizwan's dream came to an end when he broke his leg shortly before he was set to make his first-team debut at Brentford. He's now helping his younger brother with the day-to-day running of the foundation. Zesh is now club captain at Bradford City.

Good habits

Last month saw the foundation launch a pilot project that will see around 20 children, aged nine to 11, from Hill Top primary school in Bradford will take part in workshops after school once a week for 10 weeks. Pupils come from a range of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. "They'll be learning about nutrition, exercise and diet – trying to get them to adopt good habits that will stand them in good stead whether they make it in football or not," Rehman stresses. 

"The course will include a visit to Valley Parade [Bradford's ground] to see what goes on behind the scenes in the football industry, and the job opportunities there for girls as well as boys. And on week three they'll go to a match for free."  Who's paying for all this? "Well, I paid to register the charity and for the tickets for the kids," he says. "You have to believe in your own project. But we're also looking for sponsorship. West Yorkshire police want to get involved. They've agreed to fund a venue and we're currently trying to find a floodlit pitch. As far as the police are concerned, it's far better to have youngsters playing football after dark than hanging around street corners while wannabe gangsters cruise around offering them drugs."

The plan is to roll out the scheme to secondary school pupils as well as other primary schools in Bradford and beyond. "I'm hoping," says Rehman, "that the pilot scheme will become a template that could be taken into places such as Blackburn, Burnley, Luton or the East End of London." All are areas that, like Bradford, have substantial Asian populations. "I'm inundated with letters from teachers and parents asking me to come and talk to the kids," he says.  Because you're a role model?  "Exactly." And sporting Asian role models are more plentiful on the cricket pitch than the football pitch. When I bring up the subject of the alleged betting scandal besmirching Pakistani cricket, he shakes his head and says: "It's very disappointing if those allegations are proven to be true. But my focus is football. Always has been. We played it summer as well as winter in inner-city Birmingham where I grew up. That's where I first became aware of the power of the game to bring all races together."

His father, now a driving instructor, was a passionate Aston Villa supporter in the 1970s and 80s. "The National Front was quite active at some clubs in those days," Rehman says. "But Dad always said he felt safer on the Holte End at Villa Park than anywhere else."

Nonetheless, he was prepared to move the entire family south when London-based scouts began to take an interest in his boys. By that time, both had been toughened by exposure to the racism prevalent in Sunday league football – not just on the field but also from the touchline. Zesh Rehman remembers one coach shouting from the touchline during a youth tournament: "Your lot won't make it." But he did. "You have to use comments like that as motivational fuel," he insists. "That's what I tell any lad who tells me that he's been racially abused and that he'll never get picked because he's Asian. You have to toughen up mentally and realise that racism stems from ignorance." The same ignorant stereotyping once blighted black players' careers, he points out. "History repeats itself. I look at players like Viv Anderson, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson and draw inspiration. They took torrid abuse back in the 70s. But fast forward nearly 40 years and there are black players at every club and any number have played for England since Viv made the breakthrough."

Rehman has played for England himself, but only up to under-20 level. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to progress further, he accepted an invitation to lead the Pakistani team. "To captain the country of my parents' birth is a great honour," he says. "But I was as gutted as anyone when England went out of the World Cup, as I have been at every major tournament since Euro '96."

Optimistic

Rehman concedes that it may be some time before a player of Asian heritage pulls on an England shirt at Wembley stadium. At the last count, Rehman was one of just seven on the books of professional clubs and only one of them is on the fringes of Premier League (Danny Batth at Wolverhampton Wanderers). But he remains optimistic. "I think the real breakthrough, though, will come with the fourth generation – the ones born to parents who were born here," he says.

Source: Guardian Newspaper

The Football LeagueThe newly formed Zesh Rehman Foundation has joined forces with Bradford City FC to take twenty students on a tour of Valley Parade to learn more about the mechanics behind the running of a football club. 

Launched earlier this year by the Bradford City Club Captain, Zesh Rehman, the Foundation uses football as a vehicle to provide young people of all ethnicities and background with the capacity to enter the football industry. 

And in the Foundations latest initiative, joint-chairman Mark Lawn will take the children around the pitch, stands, changing rooms and club shop on October 13th allowing them to interact with various employees including physio, Kitman, Groundsman and PR.

The experience will be followed by a return to the ground three days later to watch the Bantams take on Cheltenham Town to sample the match day atmosphere at Valley Parade, meet and interact with the players.

“It is a brilliant opportunity and insight for these kids,” said Zesh Rehman, who was the first British Asian to start a Premier League match and also the first to have played in all four divisions of English professional football.

I really believe this will have a lasting ripple effect and these children will get the City bug.  Hopefully they will spread the word to their friends who will choose to follow their hometown club of Bradford.

And Lawn backed the Foundation, explaining:

What I feel the Zesh Rehman Foundation is doing is a great initiative – it can only be of a long term benefit to the club and the community.  It’s brilliant that the kids get to experience the inner workings of Bradford City, you never know we may end up employing some of these kids in the future.

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The Zesh Rehman Foundation Pilot Programme is now complete and is ready to kick off.  The ten-week programme which the PFA Management Committee member Zesh calls ‘Primary kick About’, begins on September 29 at Hill Top Primary School in Bradford.

Talking about the initiative Zesh says: “This programme means a lot to me because it’s hopefully the beginning of helping to make a positive difference to these kids’ lives. It’s all about helping kids to hone their talent on the pitch, get fit and have fun. “Football is the perfect vehicle to bring people and communities together and celebrate our differences but most importantly learn to respect one another"

Hill Top Primary school Head Teacher, Des Martin said: "We are really excited at the prospect of working with The Zesh Rehman Foundation. We fully subscribe to the Foundation's underlying principle that sport, and in particular football, should be accessible to all, irrespective of background. “Inclusion, opportunity and challenge are embedded in the ethos at Hill Top and working with Zesh reinforces our ethos that 'every child matters'. It has generated a sense of excitement across children, staff and parents."

Riz Rehman, Zesh's brother and former Brentford FC footballer has offered his services as a coach for the Programme at Hilltop Primary.  Riz said:

We will give kids from all backgrounds - both boys and girls - the chance to learn fundamentals of the game both Zesh and I have grown up to love. With ten sessions, kids have the chance to study ball control, shooting, dribbling etc and in the process get fit and healthy.  "Football is a great way for the kids to learn teamwork and goal-setting skills and in the process they will feel confident and good about themselves.

kick-racism-out1The ten-week pilot programme began on Wednesday (29 September) at Hill Top Primary School in Bradford. Rehman launched the foundation in May with four aims:

1. Use football as a vehicle for personal self development and equip young people regardless of ethnicity and background to aspire to enter the football industry
2. Promote self development using principles of football via practical and theoretical workshops
3. Encourage peer mentoring between young people engaging in dialogue and sport activity, reducing the risk of anti-social behaviour
4. Encourage and develop projects that promote football as a pathway for community cohesion, working across all ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds.

The initial ten week programme, called ‘Primary Kick About’, will oversee 20 year 5 and 6 students participating in ten 90 minute sessions, helping kids to hone their talent on the pitch, get fit and have fun.  The initiative will be the first of many for the Zesh Rehman Foundation.

Talking about the initiative, Rehman said:

This programme means a lot to me because it’s hopefully the beginning of helping to make a positive difference to these kids’ lives.Football is the perfect vehicle to bring people and communities together and celebrate our differences but most importantly learn to respect one another.

Hill Top Primary School Head Teacher, Des Martin said:

We are really excited at the prospect of working with The Zesh Rehman Foundation. We fully subscribe to the Foundation's underlying principle that sport and, in particular, football should be accessible to all, irrespective of background. Inclusion, opportunity and challenge are embedded in the ethos at Hill Top and working with Zesh reinforces our ethos that 'every child matters'. It has generated a sense of excitement across children, staff and parents.

Riz Rehman, Zesh's brother and former Brentford FC footballer has offered his services as a coach for the Programme at Hilltop Primary.
Riz said:

We will give kids from all backgrounds, both boys and girls, the chance to learn fundamentals of the game both Zesh and I have grown up to love. With ten sessions, kids have the chance to study ball control, shooting, dribbling etc and in the process get fit and healthy.

Football is a great way for the kids to learn teamwork and goal setting skills and in the process they will feel confident and good about themselves.

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