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Akram's story: Promoting community cohesion in Croydon

How one teenager is working with us to engage the Asian and Muslim community in football.

Akram lives in Croydon and is combining studying for a finance degree with working on our Get Involved community programme.

He has been a volunteer for the last two years and is now a qualified coach where he leads sessions with Get Involved, a programme that gives opportunities for young people and adults from the Asian and Muslim community to participate in football and increase cohesion with other communities through joint activities.

“I was Get Involved’s first participant. It all began with an after-school football club hosted by the Palace for Life Foundation at my secondary school. Hazmi, a coach and now my mentor, recognised my interest in football and approached me with the idea of working with the Asian community and possibly pursuing a career in coaching the sport in the future.

Participants on the Get Involved programme

“They proposed an idea that appealed to me – to encourage the Asian community to get involved in football while also battling discrimination and identifying talent in the local area.

“I remember being the only person at the first session but word quickly spread, resulting in many people who were interested in being a part of this project.

“I began as a volunteer and have now become a coach working at community sessions, after-school clubs and player-development centres, as well as hosting tournaments and Iftar events at both the Crystal Palace stadium and Crystal Palace Academy. With the Get Involved project, we give children a chance to showcase their talent and help them improve their football abilities.

“I also host community Iftar’s during Ramadan, public charity events, and my very own mosque league on Sunday night where mosques in south London come together and play each other in a league format.

Akram hosting last year’s Iftar celebrations

“The sessions demonstrate how inclusive this Get Involved project is and how it caters to all ages in the community.

“My mentor being by my side and constantly giving me advice on how to become a better coach, as well as praising me for my work, has boosted my confidence. Being able to coach young people has also allowed me to enhance my leadership skills and express my passion for the sport.

“Football is important to me as I not only use it as a form of physical exercise but also as an escapism. It allows me to clear my mind and get away from stress that I may have with university or work.

“And football is significant in my community because it serves as a platform for social integration, encouraging interaction and cooperation among various groups of people. It provides a common ground for people from all walks of life to come together, celebrate successes, and support one another, fostering social cohesion within the community without making anyone feel judged.

“Participating in Get Involved has given me a sense of belonging. There is a significant amount of discrimination against Asians in football, and as an Asian myself, giving young people the opportunities that I never had makes me feel like I am in the right profession.

Akram was also part of the team who organised a tournament to raise funds for those affected by the Pakistan Floods in 2022

“It makes me feel happy that I am able to give back to the community and help younger people achieve their footballing ambitions. What I like most is seeing a lot of young people attend the sessions and giving them the opportunity that I never had while growing up.

“Get Involved has helped engage and include the Asian community in football, as it takes into consideration religious timings, festivities and religious calendar across the year.

“It has provided me with a platform to be able to participate at the sessions when I was younger, giving me the opportunity to develop my footballing ability and express myself on the pitch. They also introduced me to different avenues, for example the opportunity to become a coach.

“It has allowed me to overcome many challenges, as I never thought that I would have the opportunity to become a football coach, especially due to my ethnicity. I want to gain all my coaching badges and make my way into elite football and become a coach at a big football club.”

Akram’s story was captured as part of a Premier League Charitable Fund and Goal Click collaboration to showcase the impact of the Premier League and Professional Footballers’ Association Community Fund.

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