What does it REALLY take to be a professional footballer? (Part Two)

Well this leaves me to my second point, why are South Asian and Eastern African football players not represented in the professional game as they are in the sport generally?

This is in fact a fantastic time for Asian and Eastern African players, as clubs up and down the country are looking for these players to come to the forefront. The clubs are motivated by two simple truths; firstly the economic gains. As most are aware, the beautiful game is now controlled by finances. Everything is now about money and clubs know that if they manage to find the first Asian or Eastern African player then they will increase their fan base to include the majority of that ethnic minority community. Now imagine an increase in 5 million supporters overnight, increased sponsorship deals and merchandise sales, that’s a massive increase in annual revenue for the clubs.

Secondly, the ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football’ campaign and political correctness is looking for every workplace to represent all types of people and as stated earlier there are few Asian and Eastern African players, hence why they are scouring the country for talent. The reputation of the club would exceed to a level that not even the clubs chairman would expect.

So, why is it then that we see no development in Asian and Eastern African football? Well firstly, let’s rule out the myth that these players can’t play. I personally believe that Asian and South American footballers are technically the most gifted in the world. Eastern African footballers, in particular Somali players, are also technically gifted but more importantly physically extremely fit. I’m telling you, the Somalian players I have played with not only run rings around players but they just keep going on and on and can run all day (its got to be something in their diet!).

All it takes is just one Asian player or Eastern African player to make the breakthrough and then this problem – or this myth – of how Asians and Eastern Africans cannot play football, and the highly problematic issue of racism will be challenged constructively and proactively.

As a coach there are three things that are looked for in a player; technical ability, mental ability and physical ability. This is where Asian and Eastern African players need to reassess the way they play as they have more than enough technical ability but sadly most players lack the other two qualities. The most important is mental ability, but what is it when I mention mental ability?

Well it’s what I have mentioned before, attitude. Attitude is the difference between a good player and a great player, mental strength always leads to an improvement on physical and technical aspects of football. All coaches look for players that are committed, determined, always willing to listen and learn, and in particular those that can encourage others around them. This is what Roger Skyrme, a Fulham scout, has to say;

“It doesn’t take a scout to pick out the best player on a pitch. We’re looking for more than just raw talent. You’ll rarely see me with my eyes on the ball during a match.I need to find out about a player’s character. So I’ll be busy looking at things like their position on the pitch, and whether they’re prepared to get stuck in and help their team-mates out.”

Let me contrast this with two teams, a ‘white team’ and an ‘Asian team’, and remember I have played for both. This is a typical training session for an ‘Asian team’. Firstly, players always turn up late; the so-called better players are almost always later than everyone else; few make little effort in training and just want to play a match; very little warm-up and warm-down (if any), mostly due to player pressure; most Asian teams are ill-equipped, not always the teams fault, in terms of either equipment or personnel.

Now with a ‘white’ team, the story is the opposite; most of the team will arrive for training about 15 minutes before it starts; they would have a proper 30 – 45 minute warm-up; players will even compete with who is best at training; they will do some exercises, usually in groups (and they can do this because they usually have 4 people helping and not one with most Asian teams); they always listen to what the coach has to say and are willing to learn; and at the end they might not even have a game and they always make sure to spend about 10 minutes at the end to warm down. This will all be done together, not like in ‘Asian’ teams who just want to hang around their own crew and hence segregate the team.

The difference is not just in the team training, but more importantly the attitude of the players. Few are willing to put in the effort required to be a top players, instead we all just want to be ‘Maradonna’, not saying there’s anything wrong with that (personally I think Maradonna is the best ever footballer), but no professional teams look for Maradonna’s, his type is a thing of the past (and that’s a shame for football entertainment). Instead they are looking for players who have the technical ability, but more importantly the mental ability and right attitude to cope with playing professional football. Players that are willing to get stuck in, that are willing to run up and down the pitch, players that don’t moan and give the coaches and managers headaches, players that will motivate others, players that are desperate to play and win, players that want to learn and improve, players that listen to instructions, and more importantly players that don’t give up.

If you are a South Asian of Eastern African reading this, then reflect honestly and see if you have the characteristics listed above. If not, then you know what you need to work on and most importantly never give up!

What does it REALLY take to be a professional footballer?

Well what gives me the authority to write about this, am I a professional footballer? Well the answer of course is no. For those who know me, know that I have played for many teams, and even represented Bangladesh youth, but I never made it as a professional footballer even though I have played for West Ham youth and played with some of the professional stars on show in the English Premiership. Why?

There are two issues I am going to tackle in this report, what it takes to be noticed and why South Asian and Eastern African football players are not represented on the professional level of football. But first let me give you a little insight into my past experience (don’t worry im not going to bore you with my life story!).

Like every budding young player, you start kicking a football as soon as you can walk. I grew up in my primary school days playing football with the likes of Ledley King and Ashley Cole who lived in my area. At a young age I believed I was the best and strived to be the best and it paid off as I was always the first to be picked. I captained my primary school team (Ledley King was also in my primary school) to win the then famous Smiths Crisp Cup at Wembley, which is like the FA Cup of primary school football.

In secondary school, I again too represented my school as team captain throughout the years, winning the Inner London Schools League (I am not too sure if these cups and leagues exist now). At thirteen, I was chosen to represent my borough, Tower Hamlets, again linking up with Ledley King and Ashley Cole as we ended up going to different schools. It was hard for as I was the only Asian player to play for Tower Hamlets at that time and also as many people know, I am a very short fellow, but again with hard work and commitment, not only did I cement my place in the team but ended up captaining the team. I also then got to represent Bangladesh in an under 16’s International Tournament in Denmark, reaching the semi-finals.

But it was at fourteen that my breakthrough came. My geography teacher in school (who was also our football coach) invited some scouts to watch one of our games. I think they were there to watch Daniel Shittu, who if you know, now represents Q.P.R and Nigeria, but it was my number that came up. In that game I played I was moved about into different positions and played at right-back, left-midfield and in central midfield and was picked up by West Ham.

At West Ham it was hard. I had to up my game as I was playing with better players (Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard Jnr, Joe Cole, you know the score) and for the first time in my life I had to really fight for my place. Well, I never got my place as Frank Lampard Jnr, who now plays for Chelsea and England, got it. I felt hard done by as Lampard’s father, Frank Lampard Snr, was the then youth team coach, and I felt I was never given a fair chance. But Lampard is showing us now why he got it, as he is arguably one of England’s best players!

Then at sixteen disaster struck as I broke my leg twice and was out the game for over a year. This is where the rest was my entire fault. I never ever got support from my parents who told me I was wasting my time, they never once watched me play and always kept saying to concentrate more on my studies than this stupid game. But after I broke my leg, I think I gave up, I put on weight and lost my pace. Instead of keeping fit and trying to get back as quick as possible, I just unwearyingly gave up. All credit to West Ham, they helped through what was not a nice period for me. I did not keep to the routine they gave me and when I recovered from my injury was not even half the player I was, and was subsequently released. I even had a trial at Charlton after that, linking up with my school buddy Danny Shittu, but that too came to nothing. After that I just play football because I love the game and have played for Globe Town, Vallance FC, Walthamstow Wanderers and now NYL. But what was it that made me rise and what was that made me fall?

There are many lessons to learn from my experience. I know I had two traits that not everyone is born with but can easily acquire. Firstly, I am a born leader. I knew it from young as I was a leader among my peers (and I grew up with a proper multi-cultural group). But this is a trait that everyone can attain to some degree, and you don’t necessarily need to inspire people to be leader. To simply encourage someone is being a leader; to correct someone is being a leader; to say kind words to people is being a leader; to motivate people is being a leader; to be a shoulder to lean on is being a leader. This is something we should all try and do, and by doing this you can inspire others around you.

Secondly and more importantly, I had to be the best. I had that attitude where I didn’t know how to lose, I had to win. This was the case in football and consequently this was also the case in my academic studies. Even in my schoolwork, mine had to be best. If someone did something that was better than mine, I had to beat him/her. I took everything in life as a competition. But you’ll never be the best unless you are organised and disciplined and I was disciplined, I used to be the first one to everything; in training, when meeting up, when going somewhere, and I always tried my best and even in training I had to be the best.

These were the two reasons I believe for how I managed to get noticed and for my early football achievements. In football, you need to have that raw technical ability, but without hard work and the right attitude you’ll never win. Only when you are disciplined and have that will-to-win will you achieve things, in football and in life.

So what was my downfall? Quite simple; a lack of discipline. I was always encouraged by my peers and teachers that I would be the first Asian player in Britain to make it, but my frustration of not being able to oust Lampard at West Ham and my broken leg changed my mentality and without noticing it I simply gave up. At a time when Asian footballers were not even given the opportunity I got, people then kept raising the issue of institutionalised racism and how an ethnic minority player would never be picked over a white person. I think that during my injury, instead of wanting to prove these people wrong like I had done so far, I stopped fighting. Once I was released by West Ham I never quite got my confidence back to play with the same attitude as I had always done so.

The thing to learn is that I must have done something right for them to even notice me, and I know what it was. It was my ability to strive to better myself, as a person and as a player, and my mentality. I never gave up and had to win at everything and always wanted to learn from my coaches and that is an essential quality that all scouts and coaches look for.

Why I joined NYL

My name is Hamzah elyas Bodiat; the reason why I joined Newham Youth Link is because of my friends Surrayh and Wahid. They told me to come to westham park every Saturdays because there is a club called Newham Youth Link. They told me about what the organisation do to help us become better People and better footballers. They do Iftar gathering which is in Ramdhaan as well as they take you places to have fun. So I went on Saturday and I was nervous because I never played for a football team before, as well as that I never thought that I was that good at football.

The reason why I thought that I was not good at football is because I used my temper a lot while playing football. The day that I joined I think I played in left midfield but I kept going in to the left back position which is my favourite position because Im left footed. Two to three later in training my team made me get in goal which was my worst position because saving hard shots and keeping my eye on the ball, during the match I made four to five very good saves, somehow I couldn’t believe it; it was shocking for me to stand there and save like the way I did.

So about eight to nine weeks later I found myself I a competition between another person called Imran, who was naturally a keeper but as the weeks passed there was an under fourteen league so me and imran had to work even harder to get that number one spot. It was really hardwork because obviously it was my worst position to a good position. As the league was nearing the pressure mounted on us but one or two weeks before the league I played excellent in goal so the coach (Aaroz Bhai) picked me for the number one keeper, I was delighted even though I didn’t like playing in goal. So at the end of the league, I was one of the heroes of the league, by playing good in goal.

One year later I thought of playing out of goal because in school I played out of goal every time so I started playing out of goal, but one day, I was watching a match and saw them struggling with no keeper. Then thought about staying in goal until they can get a better keeper than me. I waited a long time till I found out about a under sixteens player called Abdullah who was tall, that was the reason why put him in goal not me, but didn’t mind, because I knew one day I will play in a match either in or out of goal and show how terrific I can be if played every match.

The time came when we were playing our rivals “Ash-Shabab Academy” how were a decent side and I played at left back so I was delighted and played very well from my view and from a few other people. As the team didn’t do well we said forget about the misery and carry on in life. As I do see the [NYL] A team Prostars now I think that we have a good chance of winning something for the whole of newham Youth Lin. So we currently in a league.