Success stories hard to find

Asian success stories in English football are overshadowed by Venky’s management of Blackburn, writes Imran Azam.

Anuradha Desai
Venky’s owner Anuradha Desai has endured a less-than-successful reign at Ewood Park [GALLO/GETTY]

The founder of the Asian Football Awards believes Asian success stories in the sport are being overshadowed by Venky’s management of English Championship club Blackburn Rovers.

Many in the Asian football fraternity had hoped the purchase of Blackburn Rovers in 2010 by the chair of the VH group Anuradha Desai and her two brothers, would enhance Asian involvement in the game. However the Indian poultry giants’ three-year reign at Ewood Park has been associated with ridicule, resentment and relegation to the Championship.

Speaking at the recent Soccerex European Forum in Manchester, Baljit Rihal, founder of the Asian football awards in the UK, fears the infighting and financial uncertainty engulfing the former Premiership champions will reinforce stereotypes that South Asians and football don’t mix.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rihal said: “When Venky’s first came to Blackburn I was excited at the prospect of them raising the profile of Asians in football, though it would be fair to say that in truth they have been detrimental to the cause. However I would say that there have been those who have no doubt been waiting for them to trip up. 

“There are other Asian owners out there like Shahid Azeem at Aldershot, Tony Fernandez at QPR or the likes of Ilyas Khan at Accrington Stanley. They have invested huge amounts of time, finances into their respective clubs but this has not been highlighted by the media.”

In 2009 Khan saved Accrington from extinction by stepping in to pay an unpaid tax bill. Despite facing racial hostility, even by some of the club’s supporters, he is reported to have put around £2m into the club before stepping down last year.

Meanwhile Butch Fazal, chair of the Asians in Football Forum (AIFF), is currently behind a documentary celebrating Asian participation at all levels of the game in the UK.

Two particular examples likely to be highlighted include what is thought to be the first Asian football league formed in the early 60’s by Pakistani mill workers in West Yorkshire and the Punjabi Wolves, whose diverse membership includes turban-wearing Sikhs who follow Wolverhampton Wanderers and have raised thousands of pounds for charity.

“The mistake people make is they judge our legacy on the embarrassingly low amount of players playing professionally,” said Fazal.

“However, our legacy runs deeper than that and this documentary will celebrate and acknowledge the south Asian contribution to football.”

A number of initiatives have been launched in a bid to unearth and increase the number of Asian footballers ranging from Chelsea’s search for Asian Star as well as the national Asian Football Championships.

Next season Asian football fans will be hoping West Bromwich Albion’s Adil Nabi can make his Premiership debut. The young attacking midfielder, who is of Pakistani origin, has represented England at both under-16 and under-17 levels and is tipped to be the first genuine Asian footballing superstar in Britain.

For more information about the Asian football awards visit:

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites. All views expressed here are author’s own.

Source: Al Jazeera