The Welshman’s goal against Russia in the final game of Group B at Euro 2016 marked a special milestone for British and Asian culture.
The Panenka looks at that momentous occasion for the left-back and the various debates surrounding British-Asians in the UK’s biggest sport.
When Wales’ Neil Taylor scored the 2nd in the 3-0 drubbing of Russia it was an important moment. Important because it sent the Welsh Dragons on their way to topping the Group B above England and because it helped Wales secure their second win at a major tournament for the first time since 1958.
It was particularly important though, because with that goal the Swansea star became the first ever British-Asian to score at a major tournament. Born in St Asaph, Denbighshire in Wales and raised in Ruthin, Taylor is of mixed Welsh-Indian descent with his mother hailing from Kolkata, India.
Taylor’s last professional goal was six years ago for Wrexham in the English Conference. Yet here he was at Euro 2016 one-on-one with Igor Akinfeev of Russia. The Welshman took an uncertain shot that’s tameness seemed to wrong-foot the Russian stopper causing the rebound to fumble favorably back to him, Taylor of course converted the rebound and history was made.
Neil Taylor’s Indian heritage makes him the only British-Asian currently playing in the premier League. A former Manchester City trainee, he began his career with Wrexham in 2007 before making the switch to Swansea City in 2010 for an initial fee of around $100,000.
To date there have only been two other British-Asians to grace the English top-tier. One is Michael Chopra, formerly of Newcastle and Blackpool, the other is Zesh Rehman, formerly of Fulham.
In Britain it is quite clear that there is huge interest from the Asian community in the sport but professional level statistics make disappointing reading. From around 3,500 professionals employed across the four tiers of the football pyramid, there are around as few as 20 British-Asian players contracted to clubs.
According to the 2011 census there are approximately 4.5 million British-Asians living in the United Kingdom. This equates to around 10% of the population, so why is the ethnic demographic so poorly represented in the English Football League?
In 2013 The Independent addressed the reasons behind the vacuum of British Asian players by publishing:
“In modern, multicultural Britain such an event may seem unnecessarily insular but it is much needed. Asians make up around eight per cent of the English population, which is around twice the size of the black community. Yet while black British players make a huge contribution to the national game, British Asian ones are near-invisible.
“We all know the reasons, or think we do: Asian parents want their kids to be doctors; Asian kids are too weak; Asians prefer cricket and hockey; the Asian diet is unsuitable for a professional sportsman. So the clichés run. A generation after the demolishing of myths surrounding black players (“they don’t like cold weather”; “they can’t play in defense”; “they can’t play in goal”, etc) the Asian stereotypes retain currency.
“Some can be easily dismissed. Asians do like football. On a personal level I played parks football for two decades, I still play five-a-side and I coach two boys’ teams in different age groups. In all of these teams there have been, and are, Asian players.”
The England Football Association (FA) has attempted to try to understand this massive underrepresentation by holding nationally-held ‘Asians in Football’ forums. Neil Taylor himself remains bewildered as to why players of Indian, Pakistani or Bengali heritage haven’t broken into the game.
Speaking at a forum at West Ham’s Upton Park in November 2015 he offered one explanation by reveling that Indian parent do want their kids to focus on education rather than sports.
“Growing up, and from what I know, for people of Indian origin, education is the number one priority,” he said. Adding: “All parents will drill their kids to be education-based, with your dreams put to one side to what will get you through life and get you a career.”
However, Taylor also recalled his own upbringing as the youngest of three and of the importance of parental support as his football talent blossomed.
“I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for my parents! Every footballer you ask that plays on the pitch is unlikely to make it if their parents didn’t play a part in their making it to be a professional footballer. So you need that from an early age.
“My dad was big on education. I couldn’t go to football if I didn’t [complete] my education properly. It should be like that for everybody, unfortunately it’s not.
“Everyone should get their education, everyone has got their own story, but I think that if you really believe that you can, and that’s what you want to do, then parents should always back their children to do that while still having education as a back-up if it doesn’t go how you want it to.”
BBC football presenter, Manish Bhasin, expunges a myth about Asian players that they are brought up on the wrong diet to become professional athlestes as a “phony accusation.” He told The Independent that “if a kid is serious about being a sportsman he won’t wolf down bowls of food cooked in ghee just because his mum made it.”
Zesh Rehman was the very first British-Asian to appear in the English Premier League when he made his debut fo the London club in September 2003. After being spotted by a scout aged twelve, the defender’s 6ft 2” stature has done little to admonish stereotype about Asian player as being too weak.
However, the Birmingham born center-back has founded the Zesh Rehman Foundation in collaboration with the Professional Footballers Association (PFA). The institution attempts to engage and remove barriers for British-Asians in football while also using the power of the sport to exile racism.
“It is something which I am very passionate about,” Rehman told Sky Sports in 2013.
“Hopefully we can reduce the number of racist incidents and get more kids from different backgrounds involved because the UK is so diverse.
“Any form of racism stems from ignorance and a lack of education. But football has an extraordinary power to bring people together. We are trying to use that in a positive way.”
Neil Taylor and Wales are in action in the last-16 of Euro 2016 on June 25 at the Parc des Princes in Paris, kick off is at 17:00 GMT.