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Why Asian fans don't watch live football

Filed: Wednesday, 23rd January 2013
By: Saqib Khan

A brief introduction: I am in my late thirties, was brought up in Ilford and have supported Liverpool - mainly from my sofa - since the early '80s because they were the glory team and my immigrant father (from Pakistan) followed no particular team. I went to watch football matches the moment I was on my own at university and past the age of being prevented to travel by a fearful mum, scared by the hooliganism she saw on TV at the time.

I have been going to Anfield every other season or so since my early twenties. Now I'm settled in Wanstead with my family and am going to be here for the long haul.

When it came to raising my young son, I wanted to have an enduring, shared interest that would give us both time and space to develop a real relationship. It made so much sense to raise him to follow a London team and I made the decision for us to actively support West Ham United (more than I'd ever supported Liverpool) by becoming Academy members. By the time this season is done, I'll have been to eight home games in 12/13.

I think when there are so many Asians and East Europeans on West Ham's doorstep, it would be a mistake not to actively target them with introductory offers in the hope of hooking them into the fold. I've spent in excess of £500 this year already and still have at least two more games to go to, taking into account business travel commitments. As time goes on, that yearly spend will only increase with another child on the way and, quite likely, more frequent attendance in the coming seasons.

The introductory offers that might attract new fans make financial sense and West Ham United, to their credit, are doing more than most Premier League clubs are (other than those in parts of the country where the local economy is really at rock-bottom).

Iíve read how a few people on the KUMB.com Forum wonder and presume why Asians donít follow West Ham at Upton Park in any great number. Here is my tuppence:

Immigrant parents having a Ďsaveí rather than Ďspendí mentality
Many of the first generation immigrants like my father also sent money back home to support extended families. Leisure spend was - and still is for many - deemed a luxury. Our cultural relationship with money was about building security and not frittering it away on intangibles. My father for example worked near seven-day weeks and apart from going to Pakistan in an emergency when his parents died, went through the 11-year period of 1986-1997 without a holiday. I'm not sure that I, as a born and bred Brit, could now go more than a year without one.

A legacy from a time when Asians often feared feeling out of place or worse - be made to feel unwelcome
Prior to this season, I'd been to 19 football matches in total yet I still googled 'Asians at West Ham' and found this forum thread and read all the posts before feeling comfortable in committing to West Ham United. There was a fear that it might be a dicier club for an Asian to follow than Arsenal or Spurs (Chelsea was NEVER an option).

Asians tend to have more family commitments on a weekly basis
Looking around at most of my married Asian friends, we often meet with both partnerís families every week, that generally takes away one day in the weekend and one night in the week. Taking an afternoon for football puts time with immediate family (wife and kids) even more at a premium. Luckily, my wife sees it as me giving her a chance for a much needed break from looking after our son when I take him with me and he loves it too. If however, she was to feel that we needed to be spending together what's left of the weekend not consumed by extended families as so many of my mate's weekends are, then would be a different story.

No historical tradition of going to the footy
Asians in general have not been taken to the football by their dad or grandad like most of my (white English) university mates were. So those that are going are starting their own traditions that in time, through generations will multiply, but is in generational terms, still in its infancy.

As for West Ham, only those who wish to go regularly are likely to get off the glory-train
As the majority of Asians in the area came in the late '60s, '70s and early '80s, Manchester United and Liverpool have a big stronghold within the community. As their children have grown, they've continued following those teams and their children are doing the same because it doesnít make a difference where a team is in the country if you only ever watch them on TV. Even those who might go to the odd game once a season don't mind making a once-in-a-blue-moon trip to Anfield or Old Trafford and following them on Sky the rest of the time.

It's those that want to go regularly and are aware of the football and its presence in the greater community and want to really be a part of all that, that are re-thinking their allegiances. I'm more than a little embarrassed now of ever having supported anyone other than my local West Ham who Iím prouder to call my club than I ever was to follow Liverpool remotely. I love the fact that regardless of whether it's Upton Park or Stratford, that taking my kid(s) for a midweek evening game after work will be a normal thing without the crappy hassle of an eight-hour round trip.

A minor point, but still one worth making: no breakout Asian football star yet
Yes, there is the odd person with an Asian connection Ė only Michael Chopra and Zesh Rehman come to mind; hardly household names. A big star might have the same attention that lead to Irishmen in the '70s supporting Arsenal with Jennings, Brady and OíLeary in the team.

After being born and bred here, I want for me and my family to be rooted and invested in our local community (I'm a member of my local Wanstead Society). Ive set up not just my home but also my new business in Wanstead - employing local people - and supporting our local team is just an extension of that.

I just hope drawing attention to some of the factors above make people understand it's more than a simple yes/no, like/dislike thing about Asians going or wanting to go to watch football.

I understand the sentiment with those fed up at segmenting fans into ethnicities and feel that on match day, we are all simply West Ham fans. However, to those tired of such discussions, please bear with the others as I think there is a genuine desire to try and understand why such a large local demographic might not be engaged with West Ham and what can be done to increase participation - especially when we might have another 20,000 seats to fill in a few years.

Journalists who want to believe it's mainly because of some inherent racial indifference from clubs may be missing the point. The truth is there are quicker wins to be made from Sky and other corporates than the slow, long-term recruitment of new fans with a much longer pay-off of return on investment - and itís a lack of real insight into the underlying factors of non-attendance of the Asian communities.

My apologies to have gone on so long - but I wanted this to be a considered answer from a fan with an insight (though not the only one) into the Asian community on football.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by Gary Lewis
05:10PM 13th Feb 2013
''I am sure that the owners, particularly Mr Gold would be delighted to see an increase in Asian (and other ethnic minority) fans attending games at Upton Park. Surely this could have a very positive impact on the perceived opinion of ethnic intolerance that the club has had for many years.

As Saqib correctly states the area around Upton Park and further afield as well is a hotbed of different cultures, races and religions. This is where new fans should be drawn from. Whatever the club can do to encourage more people of all creeds to attend matches should be applauded. Football for all should be the motto and bringing whole new generations of West Ham fans to the ground can only be a good thing for a successfull future.

As a Jewish fan I would be delighted to see West Ham become better known as a club that embraces inclusion from all areas and this would help to eradicate much of the preconceived opinions that many people have about West Ham fans in general.''

by xorsch
01:17PM 29th Jan 2013
''Not a bad piece but I don't think save spend or family commitments is a uniquely Asian thing... that applies to everyone, not a particular part of society. The gravy train is not uniquely Asian either, it applies to lots of school kids who grow up still supporting the "big" clubs of past glories.''

by CheshireHammer
12:49PM 23rd Jan 2013
''Really interesting, well written piece, this. Also explained carefully. Maybe it has needed someone from inside the Asian community to makes these points clearly.

I've worked in Liverpool and seen the huge Asian following the club have. It comes from them being the biggest and best team when a vast amount of Asians moved to the UK, and the first generation lads wanted to feel part of the scene and therefore started supporting the big clubs.

I for one am delighted Saqib has now seen the light! He and his family are very welcome at West Ham.

I had not really noticed much Asian support for the Irons until the game at Coventry last season when I was sitting with a dozen Asian lads who were brilliant fun, and loved the club. Long may it continue.

It makes sense if we are to go to Stratford and need another 20,000 fans to put the effort in to attract local support. ''

by ohchristiandailly
12:43PM 23rd Jan 2013
''A fantastic article sir. You raise many extremely valid and insightful points. I hope you continue to enjoy supporting West Ham, and most importantly, enjoy bringing your kids to Upton Park/Stratford in the future.''

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