Players' Views


Zesh Rehman

England





Zesh, you began your professional career with a debut for Fulham at Anfield in 2004 and have played football for clubs in every division of English football. How did it feel to realise your dream of becoming a professional footballer and what was your debut like?

 
“My debut at Anfield was a great feeling, years of hard work and sacrifices had gone into reaching that milestone. To make my debut at a ground with so much history and tradition was special and something that I will always remember and cherish.”


Have you ever experienced racism in the game?

 

“I have experienced Racism at Sunday league level and on the odd occasion at professional level. It’s narrow minded people who make comments and the way to overcome that is to educate them via campaigns like Show Racism The Red Card and Kick it Out who both do great work across all levels of the game.”

 
Have you ever experienced racism outside of football in your everyday life?

 

“I have encountered racism in my every day life numerous times, but never let it get to me. Obviously it’s not pleasant but you have to remember that the people who are being prejudiced are doing so because of a lack of education.”

 

 

You originally joined Fulham aged 12 in 1996, the same year that Jas Bains released an ironically titled report: ‘Asians Can’t Play Football’; which highlighted the frustrations of many people within the Asian community who felt alienated from a sport they love. How do you feel about being one of only 5 British Asian professional footballers?

 

“The lack of Asian players in the game has always been a subject I am deeply passionate about, I feel in a privileged position to be one of the few currently plying my trade in the English Football Leagues. Hopefully I can stay in the game as long as possible to shows it is possible to have a career in the game regardless of race, culture or your family background. I want to be able to use the position I'm in to make a difference to the next generation of wannabe footballers across all ethnicities.”

 
Would you have any advice for young people, particularly young British Asians aiming to follow a career in professional football?

 

“My advice to all youngsters, including Asian Youngsters would be to not be afraid to follow your dreams, work hard, be dedicated, make sacrifices and most importantly believe in yourself regardless of what external factors are saying.”

 
You have captained Pakistan at International level and Bradford City at club level. What did it mean to you to be selected as captain in both instances?

 

“To Captain Pakistan and Bradford City are huge honours. I have been fortunate to have skippered Sunday league teams, school teams, youth teams, reserves, first team and country. I believe it is important to put your team mates first, know about them as people so you can help them as players.

Being a captain is something I take very seriously and have tried to improve in the role season after season.”

 
You received some criticism from some people for choosing to represent Pakistan, having represented England at under - 17, 19 and 20 year old level. How did that make you feel?

 

“Criticism for choosing to play for Pakistan did not affect me one bit, I was happy with my decision and have absolutely no regrets. I enjoyed representing England at youth levels, but also enjoyed playing in World Cup Qualifiers for Pakistan as well other tournaments. I just felt it was more realistic for me to have a prolonged International Career by choosing Pakistan.”

 

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa has just finished, what was your highlight of the tournament?

 

“My highlight of the World Cup was seeing countries like New Zealand and Honduras enter the World stage and get some surprising results. It showed no matter what the population of a country it has a chance to qualify for a major tournament. Obviously I was gutted and disappointed with how England finished. Overall, I think it was great for Football and South Africa to have the World Cup there, taking into account the History of the Country in terms of race riots and segregation.”

 

As well as being a member of the Show Racism the Red Card Hall of Fame, you work with many organisations such as Kick It Out, the Professional Footballers Association, the FA and the Princes Trust on different campaigns. You have also recently set-up the Zesh Rehman Foundation to promote and support the growth of football within Asian communities in the UK and overseas. Can you tell us a little about the work of the foundation and how important do you believe it is for footballers to be involved in community programmes and charitable work?

 

“I enjoy supporting campaigns like SRtRC, KIO, The PFA, The Princes Trust etc and believe more players should get involved in community and charitable projects. To be fair there are bucket loads of players who do great work in spreading the word on racism as something not acceptable in the game. My Foundation was launched in May with the first programmes to be delivered in Bradford in mid September. It is all inclusive and will hopefully shows kids from all backgrounds a way into the football industry, be it a groundsman, finance department, pr, media, coach etc there are hundreds of jobs available within the game. I will be hoping to work closely with all the organisations I support in ensuring the Foundation is a success.”

 

What do you think about the English Defence League coming to Bradford and their Islamophobic protests around the UK?

 

“The EDL demonstration in Bradford is a concern. Hopefully they will not get the attention they are seeking and hopefully there won't be any trouble. Bradford as a City does not need it. There are plenty of British Asians who have embraced the Western Culture and helped to make the country a better place. At the end of the day everyone can have their opinions, but again I think this is a case of educating people and changing their mindsets by focusing of the positive contributions of British Asians.”


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