Saturday 29 June 2013
Defender Zesh Rehman returned to one of his former clubs this week to help promote a new Premier League-funded scheme which aims to increase the number of British Asian coaches in the game.
Sidelined-2-Sidelines began this year and was set up by the Zesh Rehman Foundation with the help of a grant from the Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association.
The coach education and mentoring scheme is designed to develop British Asian coaches in order to increase the number of young people from minority communities accessing high-quality football coaching. The idea is that these coaches will act as role models to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
"The funding from the Premier League and the PFA is a major help, we can get these programmes up and running"
Rehman was the first British South Asian footballer to play in the Barclays Premier League when he represented Fulham from 2003-2006, while he also had spells at Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Bradford City.
Together with former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean, with whom he worked at Fulham, Rehman attended a conference at Loftus Road to pass on his experiences of the professional game to Sidelined-2-Sidelines participants.
"The programme aims to encourage more black and minority ethnic coaches into the game," he told premierleague.com. "It will give these young people the platform to go and get qualified as coaches and in turn go back into the community for local clubs, centre of excellences or even academies and progress further.
"The funding from the Premier League and the PFA is a major help, we can get these programmes up and running. Secondly, we all know, it's arguably the biggest footballing brand in the world so just to have them throw their weight behind it allows us to have that even stronger impact on these guys because everybody knows about the Premier League."
The Sidelined-2-Sidelines scheme, which is delivered with the help of Chelsea and QPR, began in March this year with 50 male and female participants between the ages of 16-25 years old taking part on a 12-month course. They will gain two qualifications in coaching and youth work with each student volunteering 150 hours of coaching at junior football clubs. The participants also attend Continual Professional Development Workshops every month to help maintain and reinforce their skills.
"We are not trying to change the world, we are just trying to make pockets of difference, where we can and by working with the Premier League, QPR and Chelsea in west London to start with on this project to encourage more coaches is a positive step forward," Rehman said.
The programme is already having an impact. Of the 50 participants who started the programme this year, five have progressed into professional football club community departments.
"The Premier League is fully aware of the under-representation of British Asians at all levels of the game," said Simon Morgan, the Premier League's Head of Community Development. "We have worked closely with the ZRF to develop Sidelined-2-Sidelines and are confident this programme will offer viable coaching pathways for young people from minority communities.
"The ZRF have proven through their work that they have the skill sets and expertise to access a community where clubs have previously had little connection.
"Communities are becoming more diverse, people are starting to celebrate each other's differences more"
"With Zesh's notable achievements both on and off the pitch and the high regards he is held amongst all stakeholders of the game, I'm sure Zesh's involvement with the project will inspire the cohort of coaches to develop and enter the world of professional coaching."
Rehman, who now plays for Kitchee in Hong Kong, set up his Foundation in 2010 with a variety of schemes focusing on community cohesion, education, health and sports participation. The Foundation is active in Liverpool, Bradford and London and over 5,000 youngsters have been engaged with its work.
"The Foundation hopes to create the bridge in the community for these guys to get back out there and feel part of the local football clubs and accepted in society through the football," he said. "When I was playing in England across all four leagues I was bombarded by kids, from all backgrounds but predominantly from Asian backgrounds that wanted some help and assistance and guidance to get into the game and it's just my way of trying to give something back.
"Communities are becoming more diverse, people are starting to celebrate each other's differences more, especially within football. That’s going to help the young guys on the first steps of the ladder, in terms of coaching, refereeing and volunteering. That’s what the foundation aims to do, to help break down those myths surrounding the British Asian lads in particular."