Club ownership appears to be on the list of ‘MUST DO’S’ and the number of clubs owned by BUSINESSMEN from within the Asian community is on the rise. With football clubs looking for an injection of funds they have been venturing EAST.
Professional Clubs, particularly the English Premier League, is a marketing dream if the club’s PR is handled in the correct way; plus there is significant revenue to be made. So, with this in mind, is football knowledge and experience really a necessity? It appears MONEY and CAPTIAL takes the number 1 spot...or does it?
In this column I am going to share with you the story of someone who has shown dedication and commitment towards achieving his current position. Someone who has worked in the game for over a decade as a coach and manager. Someone who isn’t your typical business tycoon. From grassroots, Sunday League to now CLUB OWNER of REDBRIDGE FC – IMRAN MERCHANT.
Fortunate to have received strong family support, Merchant(pictured with Chelmsford City manager Dean Holdsworth) began his football journey as a young 20 year old manager and founded London Bari FC: “Alhamdullilah, my family have never had a problem in me being involved in football as long as I kept out of trouble. With Bari FC we dominated Sunday leagues for years, but for me, the excitement was no longer there”. However, prior to this success, Merchant found himself in a predicament: Either he adapted his club ethos and philosophy or he continued until his frustrations would finally take a toll. His vision and passion to achieve led him to make drastic changes:
“Originally I started with an all Asian team, but I soon gathered that some Asian footballers just don’t care. They don’t appreciate the time you put in, the effort and of course the money. So, I changed my ethos and made the team inclusive of all cultures. That’s why I believe we were victorious year in year out”.
Now, standing tall and proud, Imran Merchant is the owner of Redbridge Football Club. Redbridge FC was previously known as ‘Ford United FC’ where its roots lie in the car industry. In a bid to gain more local support and become firmly established as the highest placed football club in the London Borough of Redbridge, it officially changed its name at the start of the 2004/05 season. The First Team currently play in the Ryman League, Division One North; however Merchant has expressed his aspirations for the club in wanting to achieve great heights and judging by the fantastic team of staff that he has working with him, great heights THEY WILL indeed ACHIEVE.
The clubs Youth Development Officer, Ridhwaan Yusuf, spoke very passionately about their youth set-up and placed much emphasis on nurturing home-grown talent. Currently an area that is widely debated within the game and something Gary Neville feels is being “blocked in the Premier League” by foreign players. Recently, he asked an interesting question: “Is the talent not being produced or is the pathway being blocked?” Recent data suggests that only 189 English players featured in the Premier League last season – shocking and quite frankly, just not good enough. Nevertheless, Redbridge FC paints a far prettier picture of this quite grim representation: “Our youth set up starts from age 13 to the U21’s. The new committee are strongly in agreement that players representing Redbridge should be a product of the youth set up”. Music to my ears!
On the notion of ‘competition’ and nurturing the love of the game Yusuf stated: “Competition in football is now bigger than ever. As youth development officer I hope to maintain this level of competition within all youth teams, but at the same time remember that these are kids who love the game. So my first priority is that football is fun. If we start making them believe that results are more important than participating, then from experience, I can tell you a lot of these kids will divert their attentions to other interests; and as a semi professional club with a professional set up I feel the loss would be ours if this happened”.
What is clearly evident is the club’s moral responsibility to INDIVIDUAL players in ensuring EACH are nurtured and developed with good ‘grounding’. “Our whole ethos is to develop and nurture the future stars of the English game”. Something that I believe the club are in a fantastic position to achieve.
Earlier I spoke of the club adapting it’s ethos to embracing ‘inclusivity’. Was being Asian perceived as a barrier to player development in the game? Yusuf explained how this was a subject very close to his heart: “This is an area I feel very strongly about. In my opinion Asians are under-represented. The way forward is to try and help players develop more of a winning mentality and I don’t necessarily mean that ON the pitch”.
So, having expressed that, how does Redbridge FC aim to now engage the Asian community? Yusuf stated: “Being part of Redbridge Football Club I hope to tackle certain issues head on. If it means providing workshops to Asian parents then that’s exactly what we have to do. But my main focus is the kids themselves. Attitudes have to change and self belief is very important. It’s our job as a club to show that you can be any colour, any race and any faith to progress to the pro ranks. I very much hope that in a season or two you see our first team with Asian players who can go on and wear an England shirt.”
With a deep-rooted focus on youth development and nurturing home-grown players, I would add that I very much hope that ANY player representing Redbridge FC can aspire to one day proudly wear the crest of The Three Lions.
I would like to wish the chairman, Imran Merchant and his team of staff at Redbridge Football Club all the very best in their future endeavours.
To view other sport stories that I have written please visit: manishatailor.blogspot.co.uk and follow me on twitter @ManishaTailor1. If you have a story that you would like me to cover please feel free to contact me via email: email@example.com
If you can IMAGINE it
You can ACHIEVE it.
If you can DREAM it
You can BECOME it.
DREAM. BELEIVE. ACHIEVE.