Has become the first British Asian to play in English Premier League football.Updated: Sep 02, 2003 13:36 IST
Michael Chopra, the gangling 19-year-old son of a shopkeeper, has become the first British Asian to play in the high-powered world of English Premier League football, and he might well set a trend.
Chopra, who went to school where former England captain Alan Shearer learned his trade and dearly hopes to follow in his hero's boot steps, came close to scoring a goal for Newcastle United against Manchester United last weekend.
British Asians have featured prominently in English cricket, but the community has been conspicuous by its absence in football - both as spectators and as players.
The emergence of the fleet-footed striker has thus come as a pleasant surprise for the community as well as for the large numbers of football fans that follow the game closely.
Chopra, born in 1983 in Newcastle, is the son of an English mother and an Indian father. Both run a shop in Gateshead.
In 1999, Chopra became the first British Asian to be selected to play for England Under-16s.
His father said: "I was proud enough that he had been picked to play for his country but the fact that he was the first South Asian to play for England made it doubly special."
Last weekend, Chopra played alongside his idol Shearer and came very near to scoring against reigning champions Manchester United. His style is already being compared with Shearer's.
"I am disappointed (at not scoring), but it's great to be involved. It was a good test for me against international defenders like Rio Ferdinand, Mikael Silverstre and John O'Shea," he said after the match.
England manager Sven Goran-Ericsson was among the spectators at the match, and reports said he was impressed by Chopra's deft touches and blistering pace.
Chopra's feats on the field have made him a role model for Asian youngsters who feel excluded from the football system.
"I don't feel under any extra pressure because of being an Asian player, but it's great that I can be a role model to Asian kinds. Hopefully I can inspire them to do well," he said.
Coinciding with Chopra's rise, football authorities are taking steps to redress the lack of Asian representation in football.
Nearly 100 teams have registered for an Asia-Europe Football festival to be held in September. The Football Association and the Professional Footballers' Association are backing the festival.
It is hoped the event will lead to the creation of Britain's first Asian football academy in the city next year.
Event director Majid Lavji said: "We are still waiting for Asian footballers to make the impact that black footballers have made since the early 70s."
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said it is "a scandal" that there is only one Asian player currently in English football.
He added: "(This is) because they feel excluded. Ask clubs such as Walsall or Bury, where the best teenage footballers are in their areas.
"They'll say it's the Asian kids who play on the street. Get them in, make them feel welcome."
First Published: Sep 02, 2003 00:00 IST