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Does Villa Attract Asian Fans?


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The Premier League has compiled research that has concluded that more Asians are attending top-flight matches than ever before and most follow the 'big four' - Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.

But to find the story behind the statistics I have been travelling up and down England for the past few months to speak to season ticket holders, club officials, fans' groups and the Premier League itself to find out how many British Asians are attending games.

Cathy Long, who is the head of supporter relations at the Premier League, says football clubs must realise that the local community has changed around them and they need to reflect these changes.

"The clubs may be sitting there and saying we're not doing anything different but if the local community around you has changed then you do need to do something different to attract more British Asians to football grounds," she stated.

In the past, football fans have tended to be white, working-class men but that has slowly been changing over the past decade.

It has become a more family friendly environment, there are family stands where drinking is banned, billionaire owners have invested and improved facilities at grounds and hospitality at football matches is bringing in the rich and famous.

This is what has been happening at football grounds in the Premier League, none more so than at Aston Villa.

Villa marketing executive Ravinder Masih is charged with owner Randy Lerner's vision of getting more of Birmingham's diverse community through the turnstiles.

"It's quite difficult to get the local community involved, purely because of what it was like in the 1970s and 80s with hooliganism.

"People remember that and associate football with hooliganism but slowly we're changing that perception by getting people into the family stand where they can experience the game in a safe and secure environment."

In Sunderland it is a different story. The Stadium of Light is situated on open ground not surrounded by terraced housing or a big Asian community.

I travelled 200 miles to meet Malta Singh, a member of the Punjab Army, a group of Sikh fans who have embraced the club.

The message is loud and clear on Sunderland's website, click SAFC Against Racism and you will find a picture of Malta and his friends wearing red and white turbans in the crowd.

"The drummers come out, the red and white turbans come out on the big occasions where everyone is buzzing - our aim is to walk across the Tyne Bridge, eight Sikhs with their turbans and let's see what reaction we get from Newcastle United fans!" said Malta.

Malta now takes his family to the games and says racism is not a problem. He has had the odd comment but nothing that will deter him from following his beloved Sunderland.

But racism still plays a small part in deterring more Asians from attending football matches.

Kick It Out director Piara Power thinks that clubs can still do a lot more to attract British Asian fans.

"Leicester City, for example, will have an ethnic minority majority in a few years and they need to understand that and reach out in a way that is meaningful. Also children who cannot afford to go to a match need to be given an opportunity to go and try it," said Power.

Lower down the leagues it is proving more difficult to engage the local community.

Abdul 'Butch' Fazal is the chairman of National Asians in Football Forum and has been trying to get more Asians into football for the last few years.

On most Saturdays he takes a group of British Asian children to a Luton Town game in a bid to ensure that the next generation of Luton fans will have more British Asian faces than ever before.

"For years Asians have been excluded from the game, so it is difficult to win that trust and confidence back. I think it's the not knowing what you are going to, so it's essential that parents and children get that match-day experience," he said.

It is a happier story in the Midlands. For the last five years a group called Punjabi Wolves have been making waves in Wolverhampton. They see themselves as the fastest growing ethnic minority supporters club in the world.

With more than 500 members and many of them non-Asian, Punjabi Wolves have managed to forge close links with Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Their aim is to help people, who have never experienced a match, feel safe and secure enough to go to a game.

Jas Baines is the author of 'Asians can't play football' and a Punjabi Wolf.

"We're saying football is a place where every section of every community is welcome. We know in the past it has had a bad image but Punjabi Wolves is a great example of showing that football is safe and cool, whoever you support."

Wolves chairman Jez Moxey thinks fans need to reach out to their local clubs and resolve issues unique to certain communities; such as letting in Sikhs who carry a ceremonial knife or Kirpan into the ground.

"We need to recognise that 15% of our local community is of Indian origin, so it's incumbent on us to make sure that in time 15% of our fans are Asian and we've made steps towards that," said Moxey.

"For example we were the first professional club in the UK to understand the importance of the Kirpan and allow it into the stadium."

The Premier League has carried out research into British Asians and will be handing its findings to its clubs. So even though more British Asians are attending football matches than ever before there is still much work to do.

BBC Sport: Have Asians embraced the beautiful game?

When you consider that Birmingham is around 20% Asian, I don't think we have many Asian fans.

Most Asians in Birmingham seem to support Liverpool or Man United.

Also when you consider Villa Park's location in Aston, a predominantly Asian area, it is even more disappointing.

When you go to Villa Park on a matchday you can see that most of the local residents are Asian, but once you go inside the stadium you see next to no Asians.

Are we losing support on our own doorstep?

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I often wondered about this actually and watched a program similar to this a few years ago on the BBC I think it was as to why there are so no Asian footballers playing in the professional leagues and they concluded that even though a lot of Asian footballers where in many cases quite technically gifted they simply didn't posses the physical attributes to make it in the professional leagues, in other words in the opinion of the various clubs that trials had been arranged for them they weren't physically strong enough . This is not my opinion but the findings of the programme also that the Asian community have no direct role models that they can aspire to due to this.

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If by Asian we mean Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani, then there just aren't enough role models for them in football.

I don't know why that is.

Think they have icons in other sports mainly cricket as their parents and culture would bring them up on the sport.

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If by Asian we mean Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani, then there just aren't enough role models for them in football.

I don't know why that is.

My two cents: as a culture, we (I'm lumping East Asians like Chinese and Korean people into "Asian" as well) are generally more pragmatic (sometimes depressingly so, imo), at least when it comes to picking careers. Hence, job pathways that offer decent money and stability over idealism and romanticism are usually preferred - so bankers, accountants yes, sportspeople no. Why this came to be the norm in the first place, I have no idea atm, but this is for me the best explanation for the dearth of Asian footballers everywhere.

FWIW, there hasn't been a local-born Chinese or Indian player in the Singapore national team for a few years now, it's mostly Malays and recently naturalised citizens (most of whom are white), and in my view the Malays are culturally quite different from the majority Chinese and the Indians, at least in this part of the world.

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It's a problem for youth generally, not just Asian youths or any other race. I'm from, and still live in, a very traditionally Villa area, and it's depressing the numbers of pre-teens you'll see out and about round here with a Chelsea shirt or Liverpool/Manchester United, lesser extent Arsenal, top.

Just the state of the game, I guess - success breeds support now more than ever.

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It's a problem for youth generally, not just Asian youths or any other race. I'm from, and still live in, a very traditionally Villa area, and it's depressing the numbers of pre-teens you'll see out and about round here with a Chelsea shirt or Liverpool/Manchester United, lesser extent Arsenal, top.

Just the state of the game, I guess - success breeds support now more than ever.

But this trend is more endemic among Asians.

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Excellent to see though that Villa have a positive strategy of making the attendance more diverse and creating viewing arrangements that will be more friendly to a range of cultures. Would like to hear a bit more about this direct from the club

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i have to applaud the club for this. I think getting asians involved in football can only be a positive.

I know a lot of very talented young asian lads that could play pro football but are not permitted to do so because their families would not aprove,

i know one lad in particluar who defied his parents and went to trials at villa, he didnt make it but has now been ostracised by his family and none of them will even speak to him now. Its a very hard choice to have to make...

My dreams or lose my family... very sad IMHO

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I'm not sure I care if it's a problem more endemic among Asian fans or not, I see it as a problem for the clubs around the leagues generally - they're not bringing in 'virgin' young fans well enough, be they from 'the white community' or the 'Asian community', or any other 'community'. My experience of growing up in Birmingham was that the Villa fans came from Villa families, the Small Heath fans came from Small Heath families, and the Manchester United fans came from families that didn't care about football, that had no footballing connection and their children, coming into something as important socially at that age, chose to support success, no matter their race. Exceptionally few supported clubs that their mates did in my experience.

Now, I think that that problem covers all the 'communities'. I don't think you specifically need to reach out to the Asian community. I think you need to reach out to Birmingham. At primary school, we had a Villa rep come to the school for a football session, I actually think it was one of the academy chaps, and as well as winning hearts and minds for being a 'football guy' who was going to tell us whats what (to this day I still have an excellent Cruyff turn thanks to that bloke when I was 7...it's the only footballing skill I have admittedly), he was Villa propaganda in effect, and a few kids in my class were swayed towards Villa a little by that.

You need to get kids when they're young. Thats the important thing. the club being successful on the pitch will help immeasurably, but if you can capture their hearts when they are children it doesn't matter if dad came from Punjab and loved cricket or if dad came from Putney and thought footballers were 'pooves', you can have a heart for life that will pass things on to their children.

The club does a lot of community work, all of them do, but they can always do more. Get Villa working schools, make it a truly regular thing, make... contracts with a few schools I guess, make it a regular event that a Villa representative will work with kids and encourage them to love Villa. Work harder to get family events out there, more offers for families in matches, more events around the stadium, encourage people to take Villa into a special place in their heart.

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Fair play, driving near VP yesterday I saw a good number of asians in Villa tops, of course others too visiting for the 30th anniversary.. but more asians with villa shirts. It did explode a bit when we were doing better, typically, I tink what Chindie said about the club working in the community is spot on.

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I know a lot of very talented young asian lads that could play pro football but are not permitted to do so because their families would not aprove,

i know one lad in particluar who defied his parents and went to trials at villa, he didnt make it but has now been ostracised by his family and none of them will even speak to him now.

In the name of holy ****, WHY? I know there are big taboos about religion, and caste and marriage, but I had no idea that this would be an issue.
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Well being of Turkish/Asian origin I have been a Villan for 50 Years - my nephew has carried on the tradition and he has lived in London all his life . His Kids (3 girls - one only a year old are Villans). Was proud to be one of the first of my "race" to be a Villan but as far as I am concerned Race should not come into it - I am part of a diverse and proud Villa Community and long may that continue.

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I know a lot of very talented young asian lads that could play pro football but are not permitted to do so because their families would not aprove,

i know one lad in particluar who defied his parents and went to trials at villa, he didnt make it but has now been ostracised by his family and none of them will even speak to him now.

In the name of holy ****, WHY? I know there are big taboos about religion, and caste and marriage, but I had no idea that this would be an issue.

Nothing to do with religion, caste or marriage, Mike. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chinese and Indian cultures tend to value hard financial pragmatism over idealism, and this is especially true of the older heads (like parents). This, coupled with an anachronistic (over)emphasis on parental obedience (masquerading as filial piety), makes for a potent acid, figuratively speaking.

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Well being of Turkish/Asian origin I have been a Villan for 50 Years - my nephew has carried on the tradition and he has lived in London all his life . His Kids (3 girls - one only a year old are Villans). Was proud to be one of the first of my "race" to be a Villan but as far as I am concerned Race should not come into it - I am part of a diverse and proud Villa Community and long may that continue.

Amen to that mate

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Well being an Asian from Balsall Heath orginally and now of Leamington and being brought up in a Villa family I hope I can give some insight. I agree with Chindie to an extent. It is a problem with football. With regards to Asian community I have managed to get a couple of my younger family members such as cousins to support villa. It helped when we were doing well under MON. Asian kids shouting gabbys or youngs name was great. However Asian kids especially will hardly go to football games. Many in brum live in poorer areas and their parents will not spend £100s of pounds on tickets food etc rightly so. Therefore they will watch it on tv and cheer for the best teams. Without going to a villa match it is very hard to build that love for the club. Having an Asian player would certainly help and I hope it happens soon. Plenty of talented kids out there who do nt make it for a variety of reasons not just cos they're parents won't allow it. You should know that many Asian parents these days would love their kid to make it as a footballer. Not majority I give u that but certainly more than is perceived.

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I'm a Sikh Indian guy who has lived in Birmingham for pretty much all of my 30 years apart from a few years away at Uni.

Asian's are underrepresented in the football fanbase for a number of reasons.

1 - When the bulk of south asian immigration occured after the world wars the sole concern of these 1st generation immigrants was to to establish themselves economically. Going to watch a football match for these guys didn't come any where near there list of priorities. It was to get a job, save some money, maybe start a business and most of all keep your family safe.

2- A lot of these immigrants had no history of watching spectator sport in India/pakistan. Sure they loved cricket but they wouldn't go and watch it - especially not in the rural areas. Therefore when this first generation had kids they weren't born in to sport attending families. Therefore those that did like football were immediately attracted to those players or teams that were the most exciting or had the best players. They had absolutely zero links or affinity to the club that was on their doorstep. Thats why you have so many asian "glory hunters" and also pecularities like why so many asians of the older generation still support Leeds.

3- Because of the struggle (for a number of socio-economic) of establishing their families these parents wanted their kids to have good educations more than anything. They saw this as the key to the families prospering beyond that first generation. From my personal experience as a second generation indian my parents didn't value sporting (or artistic)prowess in the slightest. All they were concerned about were Maths, Science & English - i.e qualifications that could get you a good professional job with a good salary.

4- Racisim was rife initially and combined with hooliganism resulted in all but the absolutely obsessed going to watch football matches.

However a number of things have changed since the 90's......

1- Asian families are now very established. Many have done very well in business or professionally, especially in the Midlands. A lot of people have more than average disposable cash to spend and don't have to work as hard as they once did.

2- These second generation asians are now having their own kids and want to do more family based activities. My daughter is now 10 months old. She was 6 months old when i took her down the villa for her first game against Fulham. It wasn't the most intelligent decision I have made because she hated it until one of the stewards kindly let us move to a much quieter area. However I would still make the same decision because she will always be a Villa fan and I want her to be able to say she went to her first game when we were at our worst! (hopefully it won't get worse!).

3- Love it or hate it the premiership has made football far much safer so a lot of the peripheral concerns Asians previously had have now gone. The glitz from Sky also means that people want to go and see these players live. Who wouldn't want to see somebody like Ronaldo live?

All the club need to do is to be seen in the Asian community as caring about these communities and about the people that live near the club. There are loads of Sikh/Muslim (and other) festivals during the year and the club should do all it can to show that they consider these people as part of the club and that our door is always open.

However most importantly they just need to get a team on the pitch that plays entertaining football. We have played a fairly crap brand of football for as long as I can remember with honourable exceptions for Big Ron and Brian Little. If you put a decent "product" (apologies!) on the pitch then I guarantee you that we will get more Asian's in the crowd. Add any success to that and we will get even more fans. Now some will be fairweather and their passion will wane in lean years but some will stick and become Villa fans for life...... and more than likely so will their kids.

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