Over the last nine years, the Fans for Diversity (FFD) campaign has spread the good word about diversity in the game while breaking down barriers to attending live football, gaining national recognition along the way.
That work has been led by ex-pro, and the first British asian to captain a professional outfit, Anwar Uddin, and after almost a decade at the FSA, we’re sad to announce that Anwar will be moving on to pastures new.
This week we caught up with Anwar, who’ll be helping us in the interim while he moves to the FA, about our campaign’s pioneering work…
Running since 2014 in partnership with Kick It Out, the Fans for Diversity campaign aims to support and empower people to enjoy a fantastic matchday experience – to overcome exclusion or a perception of exclusion, to engage clubs and other supporters to welcome those who might believe football is for ‘them’ not ‘me’.
In doing so, Fans for Diversity has helped establish more than 200 supporter groups at clubs in England and Wales, produced thousands of usable resources for clubs and fans, and helped more than 15,000 people watch their first live game.
“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved over the last nine years,” Anwar says. “The campaign has clearly demonstrated that supporters are central to tackling racism and discrimination while making football more inclusive for all.”
“We’ve helped build an incredible network of new supporter organisations across the country that will do lasting good for fans and the game as a whole.”
Early challenges and successes
As the campaign was getting off the ground, Anwar faced some early challenges including the historic reluctance of many in the footballing world – such as clubs and football authorities – to engage with supporters.
“Obviously over the last ten years or so clubs have recognised that they needed to be doing a lot more on diversity,” Anwar said. “But early on convincing clubs that supporters, and organised supporter groups, could play a huge part in that was difficult.
“Historically many clubs have had an adversarial relationship with their fans, so it was on us to demonstrate that when it came to diversity a collaborative approach was the most effective.
“And over the first couple of years, once we’d been working with a few clubs, word began to spread about the benefits. Clubs started to see the value in working with us and supporter groups, and it took off from there.”
Since then Fans for Diversity has worked with clubs and leagues at all levels of the game – from the top of the pyramid all the way down to non-league.
Early success stories included the Bangla Bantams, a South Asian supporter group that was established at Bradford City to help local Asian people into the matchgoing habit.
From humble beginnings of just a handful of Bradford City fans – who buddied up with locals to help tackle barriers to attending live football – the Bangla Bantams have since won national awards (including the inaugural Fans for Diversity award at the FSA’s annual awards event) and recently opened a multi-million pound community facility at Valley Parade.
In their wake came countless other supporter groups at clubs across the country who brought a new generation of football fans to the fore.
“Our new generation of South Asian fan groups are doing really important work,” Anwar says. “I’ve been involved in the game for 20 to 30 years and the numbers of South Asians in the game and in the stands is still low. Too low.
“We want to see a more accurate reflection of our communities, not just for 90 minutes on a Saturday, but in the terraces and on the training ground.”
Anwar said the work of fans, and supporter groups, through campaigns like Fans for Diversity is vital to the success of any effort to increase participation from Asian communities.
“The fan groups in our network have been doing great work in this area,” he said. “Punjabi Rams, Punjabi Wolves, Bangla Bantams, Punjabi Villans, Blues4All, Villans Together – they’ve all done so much to break down those barriers to getting involved in football.
“What’s most pleasing to me is not just how they’re getting people into seeing their local sides, but following England and Wales too.”
Another cause for celebration over the last nine years has been the rapid growth in the number of LGBT+ supporter groups at clubs across the country, many of whom were established and further developed with Anwar’s help.
Now Pride flags are a common and welcome sight at football grounds every Saturday afternoon – and football fans are a routine part of annual Pride marches around the country.
The Fans for Diversity network
Out of that rich mix of new supporter groups came the Fans for Diversity network, a space for supporters and elected-supporter representatives to talk about big issues impacting fans and new campaign ideas.
Anwar said: “It’s been a pleasure to work with the people in our Fans for Diversity network, it’s full to the brim of knowledge and expertise.”
Since its inception, the Fans for Diversity network has become an important part of the FSA’s democratic structure. It now elects three representatives onto the FSA’s National Council – which implements the decisions of the FSA’s annual conference and decides policy and strategy on matters which arise and require decisions between AGMs.
“We’ve got a real range of experiences and perspectives, it’s something that’s really valuable to have – no doubt that will continue to grow and help the FSA, and the wider-supporter movement, in years to come.”
In June last year, Anwar was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, in recognition of his work leading the Fans for Diversity campaign and a playing career spanning more than 20 years – and earlier this month he was at Buckingham Palace to receive his medal from Prince William.
“It was a memorable day for me and my family,” Anwar said.
“I’m just the one who’s been fortunate enough to work on the campaign full time but it’s a real team effort and as far as I’m concerned this award is for all the volunteers and people in football who’ve backed us and made the campaign a success.”
Anwar has been responsible for many firsts including: the first player from a South Asian background to captain a Premier League or EFL team, coach England C, and join the FA Council.
“The transition from being a player into a post-football job and a new life can be really, really difficult for many ex-pros but the FSA and all the people who work with us have made that transition so much easier – a massive thanks to everyone who’s been involved.
“I feel privileged to have been in a position to help people access the beautiful game.”
While Anwar will be leaving the FSA soon, he’ll still be in the football world as he joins the FA as diversity and inclusion manager.
Anwar will be helping us during that transition as we look to identify his replacement and plan the future strategy around our diversity work. In the meantime, no doubt will continue to provide the FSA and fan groups with advice and guidance in future – all the best Anwar!
- For more information on the FSA’s ongoing diversity work, email firstname.lastname@example.org