By Mohammad Shahnawaz – Published by MAG the Weekly
Whilst football remains at the mercy of government departments and federation officials in Pakistan, there are Pakistanis who are contributing to the game in other parts of the world. Shahid Khan, the new owner of Premier League club Fulham, hit the headlines recently but we had the chance to speak to another Shahid who has been like a saviour to an English club; Aldershot Town F.C.
Meet the modest Shahid Azeem, one of the first British Pakistanis to play football in England and now owner of a club that faced extinction just a few months ago. Shahid was kind enough to share hisexperiences in England as a man of Pakistani origin and advice for Pakistan football as well. Read on…
1. When were you bitten by the football bug?
I came in to England in 1969, and I had never heard of football but it was part of learning English and integrating. Our next door neighbour took me to see Guildford City, an evening game, in February. It was freezing cold but with around 4000 fans! I had never experienced anything like this. The hairs on the back of my neck still stand-up when I think of that day. That’s when I fell in love with football
2. Did you follow football in Pakistan?
Never. I didn’t even know what football was! I used to run a lot and got in lots of fights but that was about it.
3. You come from a family that has produced footballers, cricketers and boxers, what is the secret behind this?
There is no secret, and we are very proud of our sporting prowess in various sports. As you are aware my nephews are Amir Khan the boxer, Sajid Mohammed who is an England and Essex cricketer, but my son Aneel has more interest in football and my other son represented Surrey U17 County Cricket.
I suppose that we have been successful in sport because we have encouraged and supported our children in terms of being there, taking them to trainings, games, watching them play and generally being there for them.
4. Having played football in the professional system from a young age, what were your experiences in the game and how do you think you managed to break through and no other Asian players did?
I’m not sure you can say that I made it as a player in football; however I was probably the first Pakistani player on the books as a youth player on a professional football club. I suppose I made it through football because we lived in the most conservative, white middle class town, we were probably the only Asian family in the town and as I couldn’t speak English, I excelled in sports and particular football, this was the only way I would be seen on the same level as other kids. You don’t need to learn the language to play any sport!
5. You’ve been involved in all facets of football, recently with Woking and Aldershot Town. What is it about the game that keeps you involved and passionate despite the ups and downs of it?
As I’m too old to play now, I just love being involved in the game somehow. There is no better feeling when you win but the whole experience of being involved in football. Whether it’s as a supporter, manager, director or chairman, and you build everything all week for 90 minutes of emotions on Saturday or Tuesday. When you lose you are disappointed, annoyed, and angry. All emotions rolled in one and then after few hours you look forward to the next week to put it right. Football is not a business,like selling services, products or widgets, but you are selling emotion, and you as a player make or break fans’ weeks depending on the result.
6. What are your plans with Aldershot Town?
Our plan this year is to ensure our survival in National Conference league, ensure that we are sustainable in terms of finance and ensure that we are the hub of the community. As you know I led the consortium to buy the club out of administration and a number of my Pakistani friends helped me, and so I would like to ensure that the club becomes the most diverse club in the country.
7. As one of the few Pakistanis in the game, what is your advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
My advice to anyone who wants to get involved in football is to get involved at grassroots, help with the running of the club in any capacity, volunteering on match days, helping with sponsorships but also by becoming officials such as referees, linesmen, football secretaries. And then of course, by supporting your local club as well as a premiership club if you wish!
8. Having been involved in football in Pakistan before with Graham Roberts, would you still like to help the country improve both on and off the field?
I would love to help Pakistan Football Federation, but to do this, they have to accept that they need help and advice. They need contacts but the most important thing is to have have the right officials in the right position, on merit and not on their connections. They need to be accountable. Pakistan football is going backwards and is in need of a major revolution.
9. Would you be open to the idea of being more actively involved to help Pakistani coaches and players to come over and learn from players and coaches in Britain?
I’m extremely proud of my origins, I’m a very proud British Pakistani and I would do everything possible to help. Just ask!
10. You are one of the few people from a south Asian background who knows how football works behind the scenes, what would you say you have learnt about the game?
I’m not sure you ever get to know everything behind the scenes, but I have learnt a lot, it’s about knowing the people you are working with, sharing the same vision, it’s about not getting disappointed or giving up if things don’t go your way. You always have challenges but it’s how you overcome them that matters. •