0 users online

Zesh Rehman is making football history

last updated Monday 17th January 2005, 12:20 AM

At only 21, he has survived tussles with Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney and is making football history. Zesh Rehman, a strapping centre-half at Fulham, has broken through the game's last glass ceiling by becoming the first British-Asian to play regularly in the Premiership.

Fulham defender Zesh Rehman
Fulham defender Zesh Rehman
Zesh Rehman Stories

Valued at between £1million and £5m, he is being described as the star-in-waiting who will disprove the theory that Britain's 2.1 million Asians are not up to much when it comes to football. The Birmingham-born defender has impressed a growing band of experts scouting for 'the next big thing' during his 17 appearances for Fulham, including games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Rehman could become an idol for the 750,000 Britons of Pakistani origin, and a new British-Asian sporting hero alongside Amir Khan, the teenage boxer from Bolton who won a silver medal at last year's Athens Olympics, and Nasser Hussain, the Madras-born former England cricket captain.

Five other British Asians are also playing full-time professional football, albeit for clubs three divisions below the Premiership, and a growing number of younger Asians are joining the youth set-ups at England's 92 clubs. Rehman, though, is the only one to prove his talent at the highest level - so far.

'What he's worth depends on how he develops, but I'd say anything from £1m to the much higher price a top centre-half would cost you', said his agent, Otis Roberts. 'He has the potential to be a very, very good player.'

There has even been talk of him playing for Pakistan, where his parents, Khalib and Farah, were born. 'He's laid back off the pitch but is tough and increasingly confident on it,' added Roberts.

His progress has led to Fulham being inundated with requests for interviews from magazines such as Four Four Two, national newspapers and Eastern Eye, a newspaper for Britain's Asian communities. But for the moment he is concentrating on playing.

His emergence could broaden fans' minds, encourage clubs to sign more Asian players and increase the small number of Asians who attend games, according to the Kick Racism out of Football campaign.

'I saw Zesh's Premiership debut for Fulham against Spurs,' said Leon Mann of Kick Racism out of Football. 'A guy behind me pointed and said to his mate, "Is that guy Asian?". His friend replied, "No, he can't be, he must be mixed-race". They were amazed when they realised that he was Asian.'

Mann hopes that Rehman's growing profile will help to banish the misconceptions surrounding Asians, such as that they are only interested in cricket and hockey. 'When Zesh is playing for Fulham live on Sky Sports, the whole country will be able to see that Asians can play at the highest level. That will help to break down negative stereo types within football and society,' said Mann. 'Football coaches I've spoken to say Asians aren't interested, but a visit to many parks at the weekend shows that's wrong.'

Rehman disproves another myth: that Asian parents do not want their sons to play football. Both his parents encouraged his career from the start, Farah even agreeing to make him more pasta and fewer curries because he had to eat more carbohydrates.

Rehman suffered racist abuse only when he was a Sunday league player, and not since he began playing for Fulham, a sign of how much progress has been made in eradicating racism at football's top level.

Adam Licudi, sports editor of Eastern Eye, said: 'Rehman is typical of the third-generation Asians in Britain who are interested in football and, unlike their fathers and grandfathers, are playing and watching the game.'

Source The Observer by Denis Campbell
Since 1998
"It's been updated!"