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Football fever: Why Asians didn?t get it

Asian kids consider themselves superior when it comes to playing cricket, writes Aakash Chopra.

india Updated: May 30, 2006 13:47 IST

 

I was terribly excited when I first heard of people like Mark Ramprakash and Nasser Hussain being part of an England squad. That was quite some time ago. In the years gone by, names like these, not quintessentially English, have become more common, with more and more Asian origin players donning England colours.

England’s recent tour of India had a Monty Panesar, a Sajid Mahmood, an Owais Shah, a Vikram Solanki, a Kabir Ali and probably someone else I’m missing out. Hussain was around too, in his role as commentator. Again, a quick look through the county rosters will have you know that in the English cricketing world, “subcontinenters” proliferate at every level.

But talk of football and it’s a whole new ball game. When I was in Newcastle for a wedding recently, I learnt the bride’s family is very close to Newcastle United’s only Asian player, Michael Chopra. And then again, this is an exception — most clubs have no Asians.

Forget the Premiership; it’s hard to find one in Division One. And football is far bigger and more popular than cricket. So what’s stopping Asian kids from taking up football? Even as you search for answers, a couple of obvious points come to mind. Is football a racist sport? No. Some of the world’s best-loved players are black and making mega bucks.

What probably makes more sense is the influence of cricket in the Indian subcontinent. After interacting with kids in a local schools, I think that our kids (read Asian) consider themselves superior to others when it comes to playing cricket. Many believe it’s in their genes! I figured they have heroes to follow in cricket while football has no megastars from the subcontinent. So cricket gives them a feeling of belonging.

But this isn’t really true either. People who eventually play for England are more British than Indian or Pakistani. They are proud of their Asian roots but they’re English through and through. Which is expected and accepted too. There’s no Tebbit test happening now.

It’s taken a while to get a consensus on the “real” reason for the lack of Asians in football — and it’s a bit of a stunner. Even though football is by far the number one sport in England and footballers rake in the big bucks, it was considered a poor man’s sport till a while ago, somewhat rowdy and not quite stiff upper lip! They still don’t teach football in the big private schools. Cricket and rugby dominate. And money works one way regardless of race. So who would be willing to allow their kids to take up sport as a career? Only the elite (upper and upper middle class) or the poor.

Asian immigrants who came here in the Sixties struggled to find their feet. They were in the business of earning a living and could not afford to let their kids play, as every able body was needed to man the shops and restaurants.

That was a generation where teenagers could not be adolescents and youth made no difference to that focus. While English parents let their kids be from 16 or so, kids from immigrant families mostly never played any sport, let alone football.

Though they belonged to a common collective class (read poor) in which English kids saw football as a passion or profession, Asian kids couldn’t. Those who did play (mostly cricket) and even played for England were already from fairly well-to-do families.

It took about two generations for life to get back on track and for Asians to relax. In these years, the face of football has dramatically altered. And many immigrants from the 1960s are now part of the English upper class and encouraging their kids to follow their dreams.

After the flux, comes change. And who knows, some years down the line, we may just see more Michael Chopras on the field. Not just in the Premier Division but playing for England too.


This is the third year running that the writer would be writing for HT about life in England over the cricketing summer. He can be reached on googly1909@yahoo.com

First Published: May 30, 2006 13:47 IST