British Asians and Football : Culture, Identity, Exclusion book cover
1st Edition

British Asians and Football
Culture, Identity, Exclusion

ISBN 9780415455534
Published July 10, 2008 by Routledge
196 Pages

FREE Standard Shipping
USD $52.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

In spite of a great passion in the game and significant involvement at amateur level, British Asians are under-represented in professional football. This book asks how and why this situation has developed, using extensive interviews with British Asian football players to offer an insider’s assessment of the difficulties and conflicting demands faced every day. In addition, the book also critically examines the work of the anti-racist football movement, questioning the strategies and policies designed to eradicate racism and asking whether other approaches might be more effective or reflective of the views of the players themselves.

Ideal for academics and students of the sociology of ethnicity, sport, youth studies or cultural studies, this innovative book will also be of interest to professionals in the field of equal opportunities.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction / Methodology

Introducing the topic, methods, epistemology, ethics, ethnicity and the research process.

  1. Did you hear the one about the Asian footballer? Popular explanations of the under-representation of British Asians in professional football, and the actual significance of football in British Asian communities

This chapter provides a socio-historical analysis of popular representations of British Asians as the non-sporting ‘Other’ and "common sense" explanations of their under-representation as professional footballers. Two contrasting explanations are analysed: those that focus on social structures (i.e. ideologies of physicality, religion and diet); and those that cite the role of British Asians as determining agents (i.e. consciously deprioritising careers in professional sport). It is argued that hegemonic images of British Asian physicality in contemporary professional football need to be located firmly within colonial ideologies and, in particular, the role of scientism in constructing alterity. The chapter then outlines current challenges to these dominant images, with reference to the "special case" of Sikhs, the involvement of young British Asians in incidents of urban unrest during the summer of 2001 and the implications of Amir Khan’s boxing success. The ubiquity of stereotypes regarding the inhibiting influences of South Asian cuisine and religions within professional football are also discussed. The second half of the chapter examines popular claims that British Asians prioritise educational and economic achievement ahead of sport and yet, by examining issues of generation and parental attitudes, suggests that such claims are not necessarily accurate. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the social significance of football for young British Asian men and the role it plays in the construction of specifically British Asian identities.

3. Playing out of position? ‘Race’, nation, diaspora and the recruitment of British Asians as professional footballers

This chapter examines the complex interplay of ‘race’ and nation in contemporary British society, and the implications that such notions have for the involvement of British Asians in professional football. Focusing specifically on relations between whites and British Asians in post-industrial northern towns, this chapter examines the notion of ‘cultural racism’, and identifies how segregated social institutions, together with discourses of ‘fear’ and ‘threat’, have led to the construction of increasingly ethnically-exclusive definitions of "Englishness". These developments are then examined in the context of professional football where, in direct contrast to the situation in cricket, for instance, many British Asian footballers and supporters strongly affiliate with the England national team. It is argued that this demonstrates the complexities of hybrid / diasporic identities in late modern society. The remainder of the chapter examines the direct influence of ‘race’ and racism on the recruitment of British Asians as professional footballers. It highlights that manifestations of racism in contemporary football are extremely complex, subtle and nuanced. Consequently, whilst racism continues to subordinate and marginalise British Asian players, it is often difficult for players to recognise and for the authorities to eradicate. Finally, Chapter 3 highlights the belief amongst many British Asian players that racism is most pernicious in amateur football and that this may be of greatest significance in restricting their recruitment as professional players.

4. One of the lads? Dual ethnicity and assimilated ethnicities in the careers of British Asian professional footballers [sample chapter enclosed]

This chapter examines the extent to which those British Asians that have played professional football have sought – and, at times, managed – to become "one of the lads". Using the theoretical framework of Pierre Bourdieu (e.g. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Harvard University Press, 1984; The Logic of Practice, Stanford University Press, 1990) – namely the concepts of ‘cultural capital’, ‘habitus’ and ‘field’ – this chapter uncovers three significant trends regarding the identities and lifestyles of these players. Firstly, the majority of British Asians who have played for professional clubs have been Anglo-Asians, i.e. they have had one white parent. Secondly, in direct contrast to wider shifts in the identity politics of young British Asian men, many British Asian footballers consciously deprioritise their ethnic identities and seek to adhere to the dominant habituses of their white and African-Caribbean team-mates. Thirdly, many British Asian players believe that those players who have experienced Anglicised processes of socialisation will possess more of the specific cultural capital needed to make the professional grade. The final part of the chapter demonstrates the ambiguous status of dual-ethnicity players within British Asian communities, the anti-racist football movement and the media.

5. The New Visitation: Discourses of ‘race’ in contemporary English football

This chapter outlines the socio-political foundations and development of the anti-racist football movement. The analysis examines both how and why anti-racism has become the most salient anti-discrimination discourse in English football and, in particular, why British Asians constitute a substantial focus for contemporary anti-racist initiatives and schemes. Primarily, the chapter traces the ideological shifts that have occurred in English football in the fifteen years since the Hillsborough stadium disaster. This involves an analysis of the processes of sanitisation and bourgeoisification that have inexorably transformed the demographic profile of football supporters and, consequently, have meant that football has become a permissible medium for the articulation of anti-racism. Associated developments, such as the construction of football as an educational tool and a medium for facilitating the social inclusion of various minority groups, particularly British Asians, are also examined. The chapter then investigates the financial support that the anti-racist football movement has received from commercial companies, many of whom are attracted by both the kudos that can be derived from associations with football and anti-racism, and the economic benefits of aligning themselves with certain minority ethnic groups. The final section further demonstrates the entrenched nature of anti-racism in English football by contrasting it with the lack of anti-homophobia initiatives, the situation in other English sports and the status of anti-racism in European football.

6. Paint it Black? Identity, difference and conflict in British Asian communities: the implications for football and anti-racism

Chapter Six contextualises the central issues of the previous chapter and traces the wider ideological shifts in the politics of anti-racism during the last twenty-five years. This involves examining the development of anti-racism from the period when the notion of ‘political blackness’ – which was constructed to facilitate solidarity between all non-white groups – was the hegemonic concept in ‘race’ relations thinking to the return to an emphasis on ethnic diversity. Following Tariq Modood (e.g. Not Easy Being British: Colour, Culture and Citizenship, Runnymede Trust/Trentham Books, 1992), the chapter demonstrates that an anti-racism based solely around colour discrimination can alienate British Asians and be insensitive to the complexities of their identities. The chapter examines how these issues and transformations have influenced the anti-racist football movement and been encompassed within its policies and strategies. The analysis then moves to the contrasting social statuses of different British Asian groups. This involves an examination of both the rise of Islamophobia in Britain and the divergent levels of socio-economic achievement/disadvantage amongst British Asian communities. The implications of these phenomena are then analysed in the context of football, i.e. the inclusion of Islamophobic sentiments in terrace discourses and the apparent belief among members of anti-racist football organisations that British Asians en bloc constitute a racialised ‘underclass’ that is excluded from football fandom because of economic constraints. Finally, the chapter examines communal tensions between South Asians – both in the subcontinent and in Britain – and outlines the repercussions that these might have for the participation of British Asians in football and for the anti-racist football movement.

7. Keeping the customers satisfied? A critique of British Asian football schemes

The analyses of the anti-racist football movement and the wider politics of anti-racism converge in Chapter Seven, which further demonstrates the complex and contradictory nature of anti-racism in English football. This chapter is an empirical, in-depth critique of the contemporary policies and activities undertaken by anti-racist football organisations with regard to increasing the participation of British Asians in professional football. Derived predominantly from the arguments raised by British Asian players themselves, this chapter examines the most prominent issues facing British Asian footballers and the problems that they perceive to exist within the anti-racist football movement. It is argued that, in many instances, anti-racist football organisations are out of touch with the identities, lifestyles, attitudes and desires of young British Asian footballers and are subsequently failing to assist in overcoming their under-representation at professional level. It is demonstrated that, in some instances, young British Asian footballers are not being consulted by these organisations, and that many strategies and policies actually alienate, or even offend, them. Either way, it is clear that young British Asians are often marginalised in decision-making processes regarding their involvement in the professional game. In this regard, the following areas are examined: the manner in which anti-racist football organisations and club-based schemes attempt to engage in "community consultation"; the significance of ethnicity in coach-player relations; the implications of collaboration with the police in anti-racist projects; the use of matches between British clubs and teams from the Indian subcontinent as anti-racist events; the position of professional footballers as social and moral role models and the problems that develop when they are involved in racist incidents; and the effects of media publicity on young British Asian professional players.

8. Conclusion

Chapter Eight brings the book to a conclusion and draws together the trends, issues, problems and arguments that have been identified and articulated. It calls for new frameworks that no longer essentialise and dichotomise "South Asian" and "British" cultures but that, instead, appreciate how these elements are actively fused to create specifically British twenty-first century Asian identities and lifestyles. The discussion considers in further detail the significance of football as an arena in which these processes take place. The chapter also acknowledges the valuable contribution made to this research by British Asian footballers themselves. It reflects on the passion and commitment that participants invested in the project and the quality of information that they provided. It discusses how they intelligently contextualised their own feelings and experiences of "Asianness" within the "bigger picture" and linked the under-representation of British Asians in professional football to a variety of wider social phenomena. The chapter concludes with implications derived from this research for British Asian footballers and the anti-racist football movement.

View More



Daniel Burdsey is Senior Lecturer in Sociology of Sport and Leisure at the University of Brighton.  He has published widely on the topic of sport and young, male, British Asian identities, and is a member of an international group researching anti-racist discourses and campaigns. 


"British Asians and Football highlights and critically examines the contrast with cricket where a British Asian has captained England (Nasser Hussain) and another,Monty Panesar,is the country's leading spinner and has a cult following with British supporters.

Burdsey has undoubtedly written the last word on the subject atleast until perceptions change when (and this must happen) a British born player of Asian parents joins the ranks of the Premier League's stars "- Critical Studies in Sport