Ram Marwa is recounting the moment he was racially abused. It happened during his soccer days and, understandably, talking about it is difficult. He is nervous, nervous, upset, but tells the story and, once done, requests that the person involved and the club where it took place remain anonymous. He is willing to open old wounds, but does not want to embarrass the perpetrator.
The request is accepted, and it ultimately comes down to this: One day when Marwa was a relatively young player and was in a locker room minding his own business, a coach said to him: “Shouldn’t your family have a corner? ? store?”
“I felt slighted,” says Marwa. “I remember [the coach] looking around for approval after saying what he said and other people who were there laughing. There is nothing degrading about having a store, but I felt degraded and now that I think about it, it’s crazy that a coach could say that to a person my age and think that it is acceptable. But back then things were different and I had to put up with it and pretend that I found it funny. “
It wasn’t funny, but rather the kind of thing that people of ethnic origin have had to put up with for generations – unacceptable comments disguised as harmless jokes – and for Marwa, who has a mixed heritage – the son of a Norwegian mother and a Kenyan. . -Sikh father, neither of whom has ever owned a corner store, leading to persistent frustration regarding what it might have been.
He had a decent career, playing for a host of lower league clubs such as Grays Athletic, St Albans, Hayes and Yeading, and Ebbsfleet United before retiring at the age of 33. Four years followed as a coach at the Arsenal Football School in Dubai. And now 40 years old and having returned to her native London, Marwa can look back with pride.
But looking back also means remembering when you were one of the brightest prospects at Leyton Orient. Marwa joined the club at 14 and was the reserves captain at 16, as well as being named the youth team player of the year at the end of his first season, and this as part of a generation at Orient that included future Reading. , Aston. Villa and England side Nicky Shorey. Marwa was a talented central midfielder returning to central defense for whom great things caught the eye, but, in the end, he moved down the division rather than up it.
Maybe he just found his level or maybe something else was at stake and there is no way for Marwa to escape the feeling that his ethnicity was holding him back. It’s been that way since the corner store comment. “It had a profound effect on me,” he says. “There are a lot of subconscious biases around Asian players – he’s too thin, he’s not strong enough, he doesn’t have the support of his parents, and after what they told me, I spent my career worrying that the coaches would have those biases about me by my name and my skin. color.
“I felt inferior to other players and had to work much harder than them to be successful. That led me to put a lot of pressure on myself and not perform at the level I know I could have reached. “
Marwa will never know for sure how much, if any, his ethnicity played a role in his career, but he consoles himself in the hope that things will be different for his son, Bjorn, as he embarks on his own football journey. . The 13-year-old joined the Chelsea academy last November and through it has been participating in tutoring sessions organized by the Association of Professional Footballers as part of his drive to increase the historically low number of Asian-born players in the sport. Figures from the PFA show that there are 15 with professional contracts, with another nine registered as academics, in the Premier League and Football League, and this despite the fact that people of Asian descent have long-established roots and represent the 7-8% of the population.
There have been numerous attempts over the years to improve representation and the last one is largely a case of turning the negative into the positive: rather than dwelling on the shortage of Asian players, the PFA has decided to use those who are in sports, as well as some who are retired, as role models by having them speak about their experiences to groups of children at academies across the country, as well as being available to answer any questions they may have. Bjorn has participated in more than half a dozen such sessions, which take place every Friday, last around an hour and, due to the pandemic, are held online, and Marwa has no doubt about their beneficial impact. and potentially transformative.
“It’s great for Bjorn and the other young players to be able to look up to someone with a similar background who has done it,” he says. “That was something I never had and that could have made a huge difference after I started to worry that my ethnicity was keeping me from achieving it – a role model to inspire me and make me think, ‘They did it, me too.’ . “
While the mentors, including Wales full-back Neil Taylor and Stoke City captain Danny Batth, are free to discuss any incidents of racism they have experienced in their careers, as well as answer questions on the same topic, there is no particular focus on that topic. That may seem counterintuitive, but according to Riz Rehman, the PFA’s player inclusion executive, it’s in line with the spirit of the scheme: positivity rather than negativity. “We have had discussions about racism during the sessions but, generally, it is about celebrating Asian footballers and their achievements because nobody ever does,” he says.
“So we got Neil to talk about playing in the Euro and Danny to talk about winning the championship. [with Wolves] And all the mentors talk about the hidden things they have done to succeed as footballers, whether it be training three days a week, making dietary sacrifices, or dealing with setbacks, like getting injured or getting released. It’s about inspiring the next generation and at the same time being realistic with them in terms of what it takes to become a professional. “
As Marwa has discovered, the sessions also involve spreading the message that a career in soccer does not mean giving up education – when it comes to increasing Asian representation specifically, it is important. Because while it is a stereotype to suggest that all Asian parents are against their children getting involved in sport, there is no denying the existence of a cultural mindset that has led many to postpone and even prevent their sons and daughters from do so, heading instead, toward more academic professions such as medicine and law.
“A lot of Asian parents just don’t understand how soccer works; This tutoring scheme is designed to improve that by providing them with useful and important information, such as the fact that students are A-level, ”says Marwa. “I have years of experience in soccer and even I didn’t know it; I found out talking to an academic during one of the sessions. It’s definitely something I want Bjorn to pursue as I think it’s important for him to educate himself. “
That is for the future. For now, Marwa is happy to see that her oldest son enjoys being a part of the Chelsea academy, which remains the case even though face-to-face training sessions suffer the same fate as tutoring sessions. and they become online only. The academy matches have also ceased for the time being.
“He plays central midfield, a little technical player,” says Marwa of Bjorn, who in addition to inheriting his father’s love of football, also adopted his long shoulder-length black hair. “I wanted to play at the highest level and Bjorn wants that too. Hopefully, it will. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism