"Nobody ever said anything because I had an Anglicised name."
For a long period of time, very few British Asian football players have had the chance to play the game across the different UK and global leagues.
Due to lack of opportunities, only a handful of these football players went on to play for Premier League clubs.
Racism and stereotypes such as Asians cannot play football and that they don’t have the physical ability, still hinder their progress.
Despite the highs and lows of British Asian footballers, many of them have risen above any challenges.
Historically, Roger Verdi and Jimmy Carter were the first two football players with a British Asian background.
From then on, it seems British Asian football players were very few and far between. However, in 2016, reportedly, there were more than 3700 footballers playing professionally in the UK.
We take a closer look at the 12 top British Asian footballers, including their achievements:
Indian Punjabi defender, Rajinder Singh Virdee, was born in Nairobi, Kenya on February 4, 1953. Verdi moved to Smethwick, West Midlands, the UK at the age of seven.
To fit in at school, he made the decision to change his name. He went from Roger Jones to Roger Verdi Jones, before finally settling on Roger Verdi.
Originally on the books of Wolves and Ipswich town, Roger came under the wing of Sir Bobby Robson, who famously went on to become the England manager.
Verdi never made his full debut for either team.
Knowing his potential, Verdi had trials with several English teams but did not get a chance. One day a friend offered him the opportunity to play for Vancouver Spartans (1972) in Canada.
Verdi moved to various North American Super League (NASL) clubs after Vancouver. These included Montreal Olympique (1972-1973), Miami Toros (1974) and St. Louis Stars (1975-1977).
There was only one giant team in the NASL and that was New York Cosmos.
The NASL had quite a few great players over the years. Pele (BRZ), George Best (NI), Johan Cruyff (NED), Franz Beckenbauer (GER), Geoff Hurst (ENG) and Eusebio (POR) are a few to name.
On May 1, 1977, the Stars played the Cosmos in New York in front of 70,000 people. This was the largest crowd in the USA to ever watch an English football game. Verdi had the honour to mark Pele.
With Verdi sticking so close with Pele all game, the Brazillian had to ask him if the two should marry. In response, Verdi told him:
“Yes, but we’re getting divorced at the final whistle.”
That same month, on May 27, 1977, Verdi had the chance to pair up with football icon, George Best. At the time George was playing for Los Angeles Aztecs.
When St. Louis broke up at the end of the 1977 season, Verdi joined San Jose Earthquakes (1978) in California. Once again he was back with George, but this time on the same side.
After coaching different teams in the USA, lastly at DFW Tornadoes (Texas), Verdi finally settled permanently in Dallas.
Despite his original dream was to play for Northampton, he never played first-team football in England.
He did though manage to play with, and against, some of the world’s greats including Peter Bonetti (ENG) and Graham Souness (SCO).
Winger James William Charles Carter was born on November 9, 1965, in London to an English mother and an India father from Lucknow.
Jimmy made history when he became the first-ever footballer of British-Asian descent to have played in English Football’s highest division.
In a colourful career, he played for several teams in England.
Those clubs were Crystal Palace (1983-1985), Queens Park Rangers (1985-1987), Millwall (1987-1991), Liverpool (1991), Arsenal (1991-1995), Oxford United (1994-1995; loan) and Portsmouth (1995-1998).
Familiar as Jimmy Carter, he signed for QPR in 1987. Not being able to make the first team, Jimmy moved on to Millwall. He made his professional first-team debut on September 29, 1987.
This was the same Millwall team that had Teddy Sheringham (ENG), Tony Cascarino (RI) and Terry Hurlock (ENG) before they became famous.
After Millwall, Kenny Dalglish (SCO) took Jimmy to Liverpool for £800,000, a record amount in January 1991.
He had a short stay at Liverpool, as two months later with the arrival of Graeme Souness, Jimmy made an easy transition to Arsenal in London.
Moving to Highbury for £500,000 in October 1991, Jimmy had three and a half years with The Gunners. He never played in any of the finals that Arsenal won during that time though.
He played only twenty-nine games for them and spent most of that time in the reserves. Jimmy then had a loan spell with Oxford United between 1994-1995.
After playing for Oxford, his next stop came at Portsmouth in July 1995. Playing in the lower leagues suited Jimmy as he made a return back to Millwall during June 1998.
While playing for Millwall, Jimmy suffered a serious back injury. Hence, he finally retired in July 1999. He can say he played for two of the world’s biggest clubs, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Jimmy was proud that he was the first football player of British Asian origin to play in the Premier League. However, Jimmy never told anyone that he was of Indian descent due to racism issues.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, he said:
“I’d get some racial abuse from the terraces for being dark but in the dressing room, they just thought I had been on too many sunbeds.
“Nobody ever said anything because I had an Anglicised name.”
Jimmy can be proud of his football career and achievements.
Defender, Anwar Uddin was born in Stepney, East London, England on November 1, 1981. He was the first Bangladeshi to play in the English football league.
Anwar was originally signed for West Ham in 2001 but never made it into the first team. Though, he was part of the team that won the FA Youth Cup on May 14, 1999, beating Coventry 6-0.
Lack of opportunities saw him move to Sheffield Wednesday in February 2002. However, they sold him straight on to Bristol Rovers in June 2002 after four months due to financial hardship.
After signing for Rovers, a groin injury prevented him from playing that season. It was in the summer of 2004 that he signed for Dagenham.
It was playing at Dagenham when Anwar became the first British Asian football player to captain an English league team.
In June 2010, he made a move to Barnet where he also became team captain.
Following the 2011 departure of coach Martin Allen (ENG), Anwar became assistant manager to Giuliano Grazioli (ENG-ITA).
This made him the first-ever British Asian to have held a coaching role in the UK. This was an impressive achievement for an individual from Whitechapel.
In September 2013, Anwar retired from playing. He became Academy coach for his old club West Ham from August 2013 to March 2014.
In March 2014, he took on a role with the Football Supporters Federation. He became the Diversity and Campaigns Manager.
This position is part of the Kick It Out campaign, which aims to promote equality in Football.
Earlier from 2013 to 2014, Anwar was also an Educational Worker for Show Racism the Red Card initiative.
Following West Ham, Anwar had short football periods managing non-league clubs. These included Ware (2017), Glebe (2017-2019) and Maidstone (2019).
In May 2019, he became the Assistant Manager of Aldershot Town on a full-time basis.
With Bangladeshi and English heritage, Anwar was eligible to play for both countries but chose not to play for either.
Talking to Sky Sports, Anwar believes despite any obstacles, the future is bright for British Asian footballers.
“There is a hidden barrier that Asian kids face that others don’t.”
“Things are now in place for the future. People are now talking about Asians in football, with both academies and facilities to encourage Asians in football.”
With the likes of Anwar coaching, there is certainly hope for generations to come.
Defender Zesh Rehman has two distinct awards to his name. He is the first footballer from a British Asian background to feature in the starting XI during a Premier League game.
Secondly, he is the first British football player of South Asian descent to play in all four divisions.
Born Zeeshan Rehman on October 14, 1983, in Birmingham, England, Zesh represented his birth nation at U18 and U19 levels. But interestingly, he played for the Pakistan team at the senior level.
Zesh made his full debut for Fulham on September 23, 2003, against Wigan Athletic in the League Cup. He has since gone on to play in a career spanning over fifteen years.
His Premier League debut also came with Fulham at Anfield against Liverpool in the last minute on April 17, 2004.
Over the years, Zesh has also come to play for Brighton (2003), Norwich City (2006), QPR (2006-2008, 2009), Blackpool (2008) and Bradford City (2009-2010).
At Bradford, Rehman was promoted to club captain. But after making only twelve appearances, most of those on the bench, Zesh knew it was time to move on.
In 2010, he signed for Thai side Muangthong United (2011-2012) to make him the first Pakistani footballer to play in Thailand.
He also went on to play for Kitchee in Hong Kong on July 29, 2012. They famously faced Arsenal in a pre-season friendly, with 40,000 people in attendance at the Hong Kong Stadium.
After Hong Kong, Rehman briefly played in Malaysia for Pahang Utd (2014-2016). He then returned to the UK and signed for Gillingham on February 23, 2017.
From Gillingham, he moved to Hong Kong Premier League side Southern District in 2017.
In an interview with Give Me Football, Zesh put light to his ambitions as a footballer:
“My 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.”
In 2010, he also established the Zesh Rehman Foundation (ZRF). The foundation supports youngsters to take up football and other sports for their personal development.
Rehman has also been involved with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), encouraging more British Asian youngsters to establish a career in football.
Forward, Rocky Michael Chopra, more familiar as Michael Chopra was born in Newcastle on December 23, 1983.
Chopra made his professional debut on November 6, 2002, for Newcastle United against Everton. Ironically, he lost the game for them by missing a penalty in round 16 of the League Cup.
The following month Chopra made his European debut against Barcelona. This made him the first British Asian footballer to play in the Champions League.
After having loan spells at Watford (2003), Nottingham Forest (2004) and Barnsley (2003-2004, Chopra re-signed again with Newcastle for the 2005-2006 season.
During his second spell with the club, he unfortunately injured his knee, which restricted a lot of his game time.
As a result, he signed for Cardiff City in June 2006. At Cardiff he had his best season, scoring 22 goals in fourty-four matches. He even won ‘Championship Player of the Month’ in September 2006.
In July 2007, Chopra signed for Newcastle’s big rivals Sunderland. This brought him back to the Premier League.
With playing time limited though, he reluctantly moved back to Cardiff in February 2009.
On his return, Chopra found that he had lost his starting place at Cardiff. Unable to play first-team football, he moved to Ipswich Town in June 2011. Two years later in July 2013 went to Blackpool.
With an Indian passport through his father, his life changed dramatically. He signed for Kerala Blasters during the inaugural 2014 Indian Super League (ISL). However, this challenge only lasted one season.
Chopra says the Indian Super League was more intense than he initially thought. He stated:
“I think there were a few things that went wrong; I underestimated the ISL”
He further admitted: “I thought it was going to be easier than it was. Then I picked up a hamstring injury in pre-season which set me back.”
Returning back to Britain in 2015, Chopra signed for Scottish Championship team Alloa Athletic. He had a good run with Alloa for over two years.
In 2016, he made a one-year return to Kerala Blasterz in the ISL.
During the peak of his career, Chopra was a famous British Asian player. On his day, he was a huge talent.
Off the field. Chopra was part of a trio group that had to face a charge for ‘suspicious betting Activity’ by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) on October 4, 2012.
A guilty verdict and his gambling had cost him over £2 million.
His gambling certainly gave him exposure to something other than his footballing qualities.
Defender, Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqi, more well known as Kashif Siddiqi was born on January 25, 1986, in Hammersmith, London, England.
Despite not playing much football due to injuries, Kashif is a high profile, British Asian football player.
He has family from Uganda, India and Pakistan. Crediting his mother for being a huge influence on him, Kashif exclusively told DESIblitz:
“My mother has been my role model, both her struggle and my experiences in football have made me the player and person I am today.”
He began his football journey at the youth level, playing for Arsenal, Wycombe Wanderers, Hayes, Yeading and Boston United.
In 2005, Kashif was the first British ‘South’ Asian to receive a scholarship to play college sport in the USA.
He spent a couple of seasons, playing for Eckerd Titans (2006), Presbyterian Blue Hose (2008) and Fresno Pacific Sunbirds (2009-2010).
His senior career started at Springfield Demize (2009) in Missouri as part of the USL Premier Development League (USL PDL).
Kashif was affiliated with many other worldwide clubs between (2010-2012). He was then snapped up by Northampton Town (2013-2014).
In 2019, after signing with Oxford United, he went on loan to Real Kashmir.
When it comes to international matches, Kashif has represented Pakistan at the U-23 (2007) and senior level (2008). This includes featuring in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Qualifiers and 2008 South Asian Football Federation Championship.
In 2011, he set up the Kashif Siddiqi Foundation, a unique charity aiming to support more British Asians participating in association football.
In 2013, he became a co-founder for the organisation, Football for Peace, in collaboration with the United Nations.
The same year he was honoured by Prince Albert II of Monaco for his charitable contributions.
In the UK, Siddiqi has also been acknowledged for his charitable work, receiving recognition from Prince William.
Other admirers of his work have been Prince Ali of Jordan and Pope Francis.
Reflecting on his journey off and on the pitch. Kashif positively mentioned to DESIblitz:
“On my experiences and world travels I have picked up so many cultures and compiled with playing football has taught me to become colour blind and respect everyone on and off the pitch.
“My journey both good and bad has taught me that life is a blessing in which we must find moments to give back.”
Kashif certainly has a vision for future generations, acting as a role model himself.
Left-back Neil John Taylor, better known as Neil Taylor was born in St Asaph on February 7, 1989.
He started his football career playing as a trainee at the youth level for Manchester City (1998-2005) and Wrexham (2005-2007).
In July 2007, Neil signed a professional agreement with Wrexham.
He made his professional debut in the League Cup on August 28, 2007, ironically, against future club Aston Villa.
He moved to Swansea City during the end of the 2009-2010 season for £150,000. After playing for The Swans until 2017, he eventually joined Aston Villa for £5 million.
With ten years of experience under his belt, it was a smooth transition to the Premier League. His value was proof that he had excelled for Swansea in that time.
With Neil being born in Wales to a Bengali mother, he chose to play for the country of his birth. He was also eligible to play for India, with his mother coming from Kolkata.
After representing the national team at U-17, 19 and 21 levels, as well as the Semi-Pro side, his international debut for Wales came versus Croatia on May 23, 2010.
At the 2016 UEFA European Football Championship, Neil scored his first international goal during the 3-0 group stage triumph over Russia.
Earlier, in 2012 he was picked for the Great Britain (GB) Olympic football team and played against Brazil in the summer games.
With his help, team GB made it to the knockout phase of the tournament.
While playing for Swansea, Taylor won ‘Player Award’ at the Asian Football Awards held at Wembley Stadium on November 19, 2015.
During the same ceremony, footballer Easah Suliman who won ‘Young Player Award’ praised Neil as “a massive inspiration for what he has achieved.”
Centre back Netan Nico Sansara, more commonly known as Netan Sansara was born in Darlaston, West Midlands on August 3 1989.
After making his debut for Walsall on August 9, 2008, against Yeovil Town, Netan was a key part of the team until he got injured.
During the beginning of August 2010, he had five appearances for Scottish First Division side Dundee.
Following a season with Corby Town (2010-2011), Netan began to look at clubs overseas.
With little chance of regular football in the UK, Sansara moved abroad and joined Cypriot club PAEEK FC in July 2011.
Netan next went on to play for First Division Danish club Vestsjaelland after signing in July 2012.
In June 2013, Netan then travelled back to the UK to play for Boston United. A short spell with Stourbridge followed afterwards from January to June 2014.
And one month later in July 2014, he signed for Frederikstad, a First Division club in Norway.
Netan has since continued moving and played games for Canadian NASL club FC Edmonton Canada (2017-2018), Swedish side Gefle (2018-2019) and Norwegian outfit Hodd (2019).
From an international perspective, Neta received call ups for England at the U-18 and 19 levels.
Making his debut against the Netherlands in March 2007, Netan was fortunate to train and play in a squad, which had the likes Daniel Sturridge (ENG).
As he has not played for the senior England team, Natan is able to represent India if selected. He is eligible because of his parents’ background.
Netans continues to be a role model for British Asian players, having previously worked with the PFA and being a Kick It Out Ambassador.
He hopes that his globetrotting travels with different teams in various countries can be an inspiration to young British Asian footballers.
Daniel Tanveer Batth, famously known as Danny Batth was born on September 21, 1990, in Brierly Hill, England.
At the age of fifteen, Wolverhampton Wanders Academy was his first destination. A year later he went onto skipper the youth team.
Rising through the ranks, his first professional team was Wolverhampton Wanderers (2009-2010).
To get more experience, Danny was loaned out to Colchester United where he made his professional debut in a 2-0 win against Hartlepool on September 19 2009.
He also had loan spells with Sheffield United (2010) and Sheffield Wednesday (2011-2012).
It was at Sheffield Wednesday that he helped The Owls win promotion during the 2011-2012 season. Due to his excellent season, he was the club’s runner up for the ‘Player of the Season’ award.
On his return to Wolves in 2013, Danny was made vice-captain. They won the League One title followed by the Championship in 2018.
In 195 appearances, Danny had scored fourteen goals for The Wanderers.
Surprisingly, in August 2018 Baath moved on to Middlesbrough.
On January 19, 2019, five months after joining Middlesbrough on loan, Danny was on his way to Stoke City, sold for £3 million.
With his father being of Punjabi background, Danny is eligible to play for India, providing certain residency rules and passport regulations are met.
The strengths of Danny include aerial battles, intercepting the ball and his high level of concentration.
Meanwhile, his playing style consists of indirect threat on set-pieces and likes to play the long ball in the air.
Defender and midfielder Malvind Singh Benning, also known as Malvind Benning was born in West Bromwich, England on November 2, 1993.
After advancing via the youth system of Walsall (2010-2011), Malvind made his professional first-team debut for the club on November 6, 2012. This was four days after his 19th birthday.
Unfortunately, his debut saw his side suffering a 4-1 loss to Scunthorpe United at home.
In 2014, he won the club’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ Award.
However, in January 2015, Malvind went on loan to York City. After appearing in nine games for York, Malvind then joined Mansfield Town four months later on May 22, 2015.
At The Stags he has claimed awards for ‘Goal of the Season’ and the Chairman’s ‘Player of the Season.’ He was also named in the EFL League Two ‘Team of the Season’ IN 2018.
At 178 cms, he’s not the tallest player on the team, but he has been playing regular football for The Yellows.
Playing in five seasons he had scored 9 goals at a young age.
As a prolific fan favourite player, Malvind has shined game after game. His Punjabi heritage will allow him to play for India if he receives a call-up and qualifies to play for the national team.
Malvind is very strong when intercepting the ball and through his contributions in defence. He is also effective when crossing the ball.
Malvind enjoys tackling, shooting from a distance and set-piece play where he can act as an indirect threat.
The trailblazing player is hopeful that British Asian footballers will flourish in the future.
Otis Jan Mohammed Khan who is known in the football fraternity as Otis Khan was born on September 5, 1995, in Ashton-Under-Lyne, England.
He was originally signed with the youth system at Manchester United (2002-2012). But he later progressed with his youth career at Sheffield United (2012-2013).
It was at The Blades that Nigel Clough gave the attacking midfielder and winger his senior debut.
Clough made the decision to play him as a late substitute against Crawley Town on March 25, 2014.
While at Sheffield, Khan had loan spells at Buxton (2013-2014), Matlock Town (2015) and Barrow (2015-2016).
On January 25, 2016, Khan went on to sign an 18-month contract with League One team Barnsley.
However, a few months later, he moved to League Two side Yeovil Town (2016-2018). In 67 appearances for The Glovers, Khan found the net on twelve occasions.
Two years on, for an undisclosed fee, Khan left Yeovil for the northern League Two side Mansfield Town.
Khan was called up by the Pakistan national team in 2015. He was eligible to play for them through his paternal grandfather.
Ready for a friendly versus Afghanistan, he was unable to play the game due to not receiving the required visas and vaccinations.
Since then he was called up again for a full cap for Pakistan during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying games.
However, he declined the invitation, opting to wait for a possible call up from England, his home country.
Time will tell, whether he plays for England or Pakistan in the future.
Khan has good football skills, especially crossing, dribbling, passing, and taking set-pieces.
Prior to signing for Barnsley in 2016, Khan became famous all over Britain by completing a Ninja Warrior UK course on TV.
Three million viewers saw him win the competition during the second series broadcast on ITV.
Hamza Dewan Choudhury, more famous without his middle name was born in Loughborough, England on October 1st, 1997. He is the youngest of our twelve British Asian Football players.
His parents, including mother and stepdad, are both of Bangladeshi descent. However, his real father is apparently from Grenada in the West Indies.
At school, he preferred football to lessons, which his teachers noticed. They even advised him to have a backup plan just in case football never worked out. But he was always destined to become a footballer.
From the age of seven, he started his career at the Leicester City Academy. During those days. his parents had to drive him everywhere to games.
Despite progressing through the ranks at Leicester, his way to the first team was barred by Danny Drinkwater (ENG) and N’Golo Kante (FRA).
Hence, he had a short loan spell with Burton Albion (2016-2017), making his League One debut against Walsall on February 27, 2016.
He was part of the successful team that got promoted to the Championship under manager Nigel Clough.
Following two seasons with Burton, Hamza eventually came back back to The Foxes.
With the departures of Drinkwater and Kante, a place became available in the first team. Thus, on November 28, 2017, he made his Premier League debut against Tottenham Hotspur.
His consistent performances made the England selectors sit up and notice.
He made his England debut for the U-21 national team in a 2-1 win against China in the Toulon tournament on May 26, 2018.
On May 29, 2019, Hamza was sent off against France in the EUFA U21 tournament held in Italy. A bad tackle on Jonathan Bamba (FRA) of Lille almost ended the Frenchman’s career.
However, his main ambition is to play for the England senior team, He wants to become the first British Asian to play for the full squad:
In an interaction with Sky Sports News, the player, nicknamed ‘The Bengali Bull’ said:
“To play for England is my biggest dream, it would be an honour. I definitely don’t want to just settle down and think this is me set.”
Likened to Marouane Fellaini (BEL), because of his afro hairstyle, he has been quizzed about why he keeps it so long.
He told the BBC that the simple answer was “because he hates getting his hair cut.”
The Fellaini-style hairdo has garnered plenty of attention from fans in both League One and the Championship. He shared his thoughts with Leicester Mercury, saying:
“When I went out on loan I got a lot of banter from opposition fans and stuff, but you take it with a pinch of salt, I can’t imagine having my hair any other way.”
Commenting about being Asian and aiming to improve further, Hamza expressed his views to Sports Only Bangladesh:
“I don’t really feel any pressure about being a professional from an Asian background.”
“It’s about working hard and challenging myself in different ways so I still feel like hopefully there’s a long way to go and a lot more I can improve.”
Hamza hopes other British Asian kids will follow his path.
Harpal Singh, Adnan Ahmed Rikki Baines, Samir Nabi are other top British Asian football players who missed the cut.
Meanwhile, Yann Dhanda, Easah Suleman, Adil Nabi and Dilan Markanday are also exciting football players.
British Asian football players are not well represented in the Premier League.
However, for many football players, a myriad of opportunities have become available for them elsewhere. As one door closes another door opens.
Like cricket and other sports in the UK, football will open wider doors for British Asians in the future.