West Ham United inspires change and widens the talent pool of grassroots coaches
West Ham United have been working with the South Asian communities of east London to inspire change and identify emerging talent of players, coaches and scouts from local boroughs.
More than 325,000 South Asians (Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) live in the London Boroughs of Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham and Havering, but the ethnic group remains underrepresented across football.
Rashid Abba, who has over 30 years’ experience channelling football in his local community, was recently appointed in the newly-created role of Academy Link Mentor, applying his deep knowledge and networks within east London to the task of identifying, and opening further pathways for, the next generation of South Asian talent to engage with West Ham United, the Academy of Football and the West Ham Foundation.
As part of that drive to mentor and develop the South Asian playing and coaching talent of the future, Abba invited a number of promising grassroots coaches to a training session with local partnership club Vallance FC, based in the heart of Tower Hamlets.
There, with help from South Asian coaches already embedded within the Academy and Foundation, Abba worked to showcase to them West Ham United’s commitment to working within that community, in line with the Club’s commitment to equality and diversity.
“What we wanted to showcase is how we could come into the heart of the community and and have that visibility to inspire change and widen the talent pool of inspirational coaches from the South Asian community,” Abba told West Ham TV.
“We're showcasing, for the local coaches and for the local players to see, what we’re trying to do in terms of building relationships with West Ham United, linking up with the Foundation and linking up with the Academy and the Club, and aligning everything in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion by doing a lot of outreach work.
“Part of my Academy of Football Link Mentor role is to go into the communities where there is a high South Asian population and connect with them, built that trust, inspire them, and hopefully try to raise the standard of grassroots coaches.
“By raising the standard and professionalism of grassroots coaches, we’re going to raise the standard of players and educate them in terms of a player pathway or coaching and scouting pathway in the elite game. Not only that, but some of those players might want to go to university where they could study it.
“I think it’s about giving them those kind of employability, soft skills as well, but it’s more about inspiring, encouraging, supporting and empowering them.
“Even when it comes to accessing facilities, this is a very challenging borough, but the passion for football here is massive and we want to make sure that we don’t miss this generation.”
Abba is confident that, over time, the impact of this grassroots development will only grow and grow.
He explained: “In terms of the response I've had since the role [of Academy Link Mentor] was officially announced, I think it's really inspired the community in London and across the country to say we've got someone who looks like us, understands the culture and speaks the languages, and who could help us to where we want to go.
“I'm really honoured and privileged that the Club and the Academy and the Foundation have given me the opportunity to excel in my lived experience and explore how I can mentor the next generation of emerging talented players, coaches and scouts from east London.
“It’s just having those pathways into the professional game so that if we do identify emerging talent – players, coaches, scouts – you know there’s a contact point and a structure to the strategy.”
One of the local coaches attending, Joynal Hussain, added: “My ambition is basically to go into scouting. I got involved with this whole programme through Rashid, and I started my level one [coaching qualification] with him. He encouraged me to get into the game.
“There’s so much as a coach you can learn, so I’m learning massively and networking with people. It’s only through Rashid and the West Ham United Foundation that he showed me there’s a pathway from grassroots to the professional game.
“Prior to meeting him, I didn’t know there were opportunities like this. As a local Asian kid, I didn’t know if there was a pathway into professional coaching. But there is – this has opened my eyes to the opportunities out there.”
Mohammed Ali, a coaching mentee of Abba through the Foundation, also explained his own pathway: “Rashid oversees everything in terms of my coach development plan – that’s my own Individual Development Plan, and overall, what I’m doing with football.
“As a coach, I feel like that’s helped me just progress and keep developing. This has just taken me to another level, which I’m really happy with.
“I’ve learnt so much in such little time. The mentoring scheme also helps me with myself in terms of my outcomes, my goals and what I want to achieve, and I feel like that’s opened many more doors for myself.”
To find out more about the Academy Link Mentor’s role and how West Ham United is working with the South Asian communities of east London, email Rashid Abba at [email protected].