Q&A with Former Fulham, QPR and Bradford City defender Zesh Rehman
V2 Football had the pleasure to talk to Former Fulham, QPR and Bradford City defender Zesh Rehman about his career and role as an ambassador for Kick It Out.
Who spotted you and took you to Fulham?
It was a guy called Gary Clarke who was the Under 12’s manager at Fulham. He came to watch me play and I went for a 2 week trail. After 2 weeks, I signed for the under 12’s and I was there til I was 22.
It was a good 10 years at the club, I really enjoyed it.
You made your professional debut for Fulham at Anfield, was it a scary atmosphere?
It’s a great place to make your debut, if you could pick a place to make your debut Anfield would probably in most people’s top 2 or 3. Fantastic crowd, lots of history there and coming on at Anfield was an amazing experience and something I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
What are your favourite memories from your Fulham days?
I was fortunate to play with some very good professionals like Andy Cole, Edwin Van Der Sar and Brian McBride. These like of guys are top professionals so I learned a lot.
My favourite memory is probably winning 4-1 away at St James Park playing against the likes of Alan Shearer and Patrick Kluivert.
Also the couple of times I played against Arsenal not for the results but just to be on the same pitch as the invincibles side. Sometimes you couldn’t get near the ball for 10 minutes but it was good to be on that pitch and experience that.
There are some good memories but those games against the top teams like Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal really stick out.
You moved from Fulham to QPR, how did you find dropping a division?
I had 2 years left on my contract at Fulham but when your 21 or 22, now you’re at a crossroads unless you are established when you come through a youth team at a club for some reason you’re still seen as the kid from the youth team so you have to go and make your name in your own right and establish yourself so I decided to step out my comfort zone from 2 years left on my contract because the manager at the time, Chris Coleman, told me I needed to play 50 to 60 games in the next 2 years and I did that at QPR.
I have no regrets about leaving Fulham for QPR.
Then you hold a loan spell at Blackpool before you moved to Bradford City, where you became the first Asian Captain of the club
Yeah, Bradford was a good experience. They have a massive Asian community around there and they had some success in getting Asian fans to come in and local sponsors on board, just trying integrate the community to be part of the Football Club. Trying to really make the feel part of it and that they belong to it because the club is situated in the heart of the city and it’s the hub of that city.
Hopefully that spell helped Asian fans to get involved.
On the football side, I enjoyed it. Played close to 100 games there, learned a lot from Stuart McCall who is a very good guy and a very good manager.
Yeah, it was a good 2 years.
Why do you think there are some few British Asians involved in Football?
The question has come up time and time again over the years. There isn’t one answer that just nails it on the head. It’s a combination of many factors; we’re in the 3rd and 4th generations of Asian of the UK so that means their mind-set and attitude towards sport and Football in particular this seen as acceptable now, parents no longer see it as something they shouldn’t encourage in their children to get involved in.
Secondly, I think there are certain things that are hinder the Asian community. They don’t help themselves by playing in Asian only leagues which is something I totally disagree with because it sends on the wrong signals and they are isolating themselves but on the flipside I can understand why they set-up.
Also the clubs and their scouts could do with do some mentoring in the Asian community; some Muslim players feel the clubs don’t know anything their community. However, I feel if the player is good enough he will come through so it is a combination of many things.
It’s not just one issue, its many, many things.
Do you feel there isn’t enough media interest in the lack of Asian players in football?
I wouldn’t say there is little interest.
There has been a lot forums and debates to try and pin point why there is no Asian players. I just think things have stood still because its just talking at the moment.
You need to get out there and put that talk into action, that means going into the community and starting from grassroots and mentoring the kids from a young age to make sure they have a right mentality to embrace the sport.
How did you find playing in Malaysia?
It’s very different to England. The weather for a start but in terms of the football and lifestyle it’s very enjoyable.
(Interview conducted by Chris Lappin and Shane Lees)