Fulham FC’s Motspur Park training ground was the venue for the latest stage of the Zesh Rehman Foundation’s (ZRF) efforts to tackle under-representation of British Asians in football.
The ZRF flagship project, ‘Sidelined-2-Sidelines’, funded by the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Premier League, aims to address the imbalance in the number of British Asian coaches in football by giving 50 young participants the opportunity to gain football-related qualifications, learn from professional club coaches and acquire the necessary skills to act as role models within their communities.
Fulham FC has nominated this Saturday’s home fixture against Southampton as its designated ‘Kick It Out’ awareness match and, earlier this month, coaches from the Premier League club delivered a theory session focusing on ‘Producing Technical Players’ and a coaching master class for a number of coaches from the ZRF.
Fulham Under-11s Academy Lead Coach and Coach Educator Keith Stiles, who co-hosted the session alongside Under-12s Support Coach Rupesh Popat, said: “The coaches were very receptive and actively involved throughout. Initiatives like this are very important as they give young people an opportunity to get a better insight of how the Academy system works and the step-up from grassroots coaching to Academy level.
“I fully support the aims behind the ZRF, and for them to have a mentor on board like Rupesh who is already working within the Academy system, will give the cohort of coaches a ready-made role model to aspire to”.
Rehman was the first British Asian to play in the Premier League when he made his debut for Fulham against Liverpool in April 2004.
Now playing his football in the Malaysian Super League for Pahang FA, for whom he recently lifted the Charity Cup on his debut, the foundation that runs under the Pakistan international captain’s name continues to grow with strong support from the football governing bodies and a number of professional clubs all geared towards striving to change perceptions and myths surrounding British Asians in football by providing opportunities to disadvantaged and under-represented communities.
Rehman said: “I am delighted that Fulham FC has opened their doors to give young people from my Foundation an opportunity to learn from experienced Academy coaches. To have Keith and Rupesh spend over four hours on a Saturday afternoon to support the development of community coaches is a testament to everyone at Fulham.
“I have fond memories of my time at the Club and I remember supporting, along with all of the players, many of the worthwhile initiatives delivered by the Fulham FC Foundation, particularly the Social Inclusion work. It’s really pleasing to see how these programmes have developed and how Fulham remains at the forefront of positive work and groundbreaking projects within their local communities
“I would like to thank Geoff Noonan (Fulham Academy Coach Developer) and Steve Day (CEO, Fulham FC Foundation) for making this visit possible and, from speaking with some of the attendees, I know they took valuable information away from the session which will help them in their coaching careers.”
Since the launch of the initiative, a number of young coaches have experienced coaching roles within professional club academies and community departments, including Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers who are formal partners of the project, as well as Fulham and Crystal Palace.
Vikas Sadiq, who coaches on the Schools Programme and Soccer Schools at Fulham FC Foundation, said: “12 months ago this was just a distant dream. I’ve always had a passion for football but never thought I would be working at a professional club.
“Without the support of the ZRF this would not have been possible and it’s like a dream to be coaching at Fulham and one I hope to make the most of. The workshop at Motspur Park was possibly one of the best we’ve had and I know I will be implementing the information given to me into my future coaching sessions.”