Why Zesh Rehman’s legacy can’t be understated. – A feature article.
A 10-year-old Zesh Rehman was once told by a scout that “Your lot won’t make it” – a clear reference to his Asian background and a sentence with racist undertones.
But he did make it and, at the age of 33, the Birmingham-born defender found himself at Gillingham towards the end of last season and played a full part as the Kent club avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth.
Whether the Gills can do the same next season only time will tell. In any case, the latest tips and predictions at Bethut will be useful to anyone interested in tracking the progress of the League 1 outfit or any of the other clubs Rehman played for.
He is now a free agent and it remains to be seen where Rehman ends up next term but, whatever happens, he has already been an inspiration to Asian kids trying to find a route into the game.
There is a still a paucity of British Asians playing professional football which is disappointing given their numbers, but a glance at how Rehman has gone about his business will surely make more strive to follow his path.
He became the first British Asian to play in the Premier League when on the books of Fulham and has since plied his trade at Brighton, Norwich, Queens Park Rangers, Blackpool and Bradford City in the English game.
Not content to be a trailblazer in England, he then ventured to far-flung outposts such as Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia to carry on his career before returning the Gills in March this year.
But it is not just on the pitch that the veteran has had an impact as he has been heavily involved in the ant-racism ‘Kick It Out’ organization to try and help British Asian players.
Indeed, at the start of his professional career, Rehman was quoted as saying his “sole purpose in trying to be a success as a professional footballer is to inspire other Asian players to follow my lead and achieve their goals.”
He is an ambassador for the Asian Football Network and has also worked with the Professional Footballers’ Association to try to increase the number of British Asians playing professional football.
He set up the Zesh Rehman Foundation in 2010 while playing for Bradford and has strived continuously to break down barriers and bring more players into the game from the Asian community and other ethnic minorities.
When the Bantams made it Wembley on a couple of occasions, there were thousands of Asian fans from west Yorkshire in the stands and that was in no small part due to the influence of the man at the heart of the defense.
Having played his age-group level football for England, Rehman opted to throw his lot in with Pakistan at full international level and has, to date, capped 18 times.
Football is popular in the country but is still a poor cousin to cricket and the fact that the Pakistan side does not qualify for the World Cup is hardly going to help in that regard.
They lost out to Yemen in the AFC qualifying section and did not even make it to the group stage and, until the public see success, then things are unlikely to change.
But, in England at least, Rehman is doing his bit to ensure that Asian footballers do get a foothold in the game and they could not want for a better role model.