No Room For Racism

West Ham and Luton join forces to inspire south Asian footballers

14 May 2024
West Ham Luton Town No Room For Racism

Youngsters enjoy a special training session in the shadow of London Stadium to celebrate commitment to engage south Asian community

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West Ham United and Luton Town held a training session with a difference last weekend to celebrate the work both clubs are delivering to engage with South Asian communities.

Prior to Saturday's Premier League fixture at London Stadium, the clubs joined forces to illustrate the role they are playing in their respective communities to engage with a demographic which is significantly underrepresented across football.

West Ham first-team players Angelo Ogbonna and Freddie Potts, as well as former defender Anton Ferdinand, were on hand to inspire the youngsters with encouragement and support.

"It has been a pleasure to work with all the kids here, to help them to play football and to help instil in them the positive values that sport brings on and off the pitch," Ogbonna said.

West Ham Luton Town No Room For Racism, Ogbonna

"The community we are reaching out to here is a significant part of our community in east London and that is something that is really important to everyone at our Club."

The areas surrounding both West Ham and Luton are home to more than 400,000 people with south Asian heritage - a region which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal.

Many thousands are passionate football fans, and both clubs have launched schemes to engage with those communities, provide pathways into football and, ultimately, to produce elite players and coaches of the future.

"It's the start of a new programme we're going to launch to increase South Asian participation and engagement in Luton, so this is a brilliant opportunity to bring a team down and mix in with West Ham, who have a very successful programme themselves," said Luton Town Football Development Manager Alex Wallace.

"Kenilworth Road is in the middle of Bury Park in Luton, which is an area we are aiming to have much more engagement with as a Community Trust and hopefully we can support and find the under-represented talent that is there. It is about giving them the opportunity and creating that pathway for them.

"The goal is to have a player with south Asian heritage play for Luton’s first team and that’s why we're launching our programme, to give opportunities to those who haven’t had them. That’s the dream."

And so last weekend, Under-10s teams representing West Ham's Emerging Hammers programme and the Luton Town Community Trust were invited to the London Marathon Community Track at London Stadium for a special training session delivered by coaching staff from each club.

West Ham Luton Town No Room For Racism

Both West Ham and Luton play a leading role in progressing the Premier League's South Asian Action Plan, which aim to address the underrepresentation of British south Asian players within the academy system.

It supports one of the key commitments of the League's ongoing No Room For Racism Action Plan.

"The only way we are going to change the narrative around underrepresented communities is by seeing the boys play," said West Ham United Academy Link Mentor Rashid Abba.

"The majority of the kids here have never been to a football club and have never seen a professional player in person. I think the boys see them as role models.

"This is how we change the narrative - we have got to see players playing for West Ham who look like them. That is going to inspire the next generation."

According to The Professional Footballers' Association, the number of south Asian men's professional footballers in England and Wales has risen for the second year in a row.

There are 22 professional players with south Asian heritage aged 17 or over in England's top four leagues this season, which is a 29 per cent rise from 17 in 2022-23.

The overall percentage of south Asian professional players however remains low in England and Wales. There are around 5,000 professional footballers in the UK, with less than one per cent with South Asian heritage.

This compares with 9.3 per cent of the overall UK population, who identify as Asian, Asian British or Asian Welsh.

West Ham will host a South Asian Talent ID Festival in June, with the best Under-10 and Under-11 players from grassroots clubs selected to represent the club at a National Premier League Emerging Talent Festival at Loughborough University in August.

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