Supporting pathways for South Asian girls

As part of our continued partnership with the PFA’s AIMS (Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme) project, last week we hosted a football festival for female players with South Asian heritage between the ages of 9 and 16.  

More than 130 budding footballers were in attendance for the ‘Strong South Asian Gunners’ event at Hale End - one of a series of events designed to inspire the participation of South Asian women and girls in football.  

This was the fourth event of its kind we have held in association with the PFA’s AIMS. With our unique placement in the community, shared philosophy under the ‘Arsenal for Everyone’ banner and the number of South Asian staff working at the club, last week’s event was part of our wider focus on increasing participation and accessibility for all.  

“The idea behind Strong Young South Asian Gunners is to provide an opportunity for girls to play a couple of hours of football and take part in workshops as we try to grow the game and give back to the communities we come from,” said James Honeyman, Arsenal Women’s Academy manager.  

“We had over 130 people here tonight and that shows the massive interest in the community. We’ve started something and now it’s really important to grow it from this point onwards.” 

As well as taking part in football drills, all participants attended a workshop which included external speakers. Attendees heard from Sabah Mahmood, FC Leytonstone Football Coach, Kira Rai, Derby County Football player and Dev Trehan, Journalist and Scout. They all spoke about their experience getting into football and engaged with the young footballers, answering all questions asked.  

Sabah Mahmood, FC Leytonstone coach; Kira Rai, Derby County football player and Dev Trehan, journalist and scout

Alongside coaches from our women’s academy, several of our Arsenal Women’s U21s squad came down to Hale End to help coach the young footballers.  

“It’s all about small events like this when you’re getting into football,” said Vivienne Lia. “It just makes you want to keep playing with other girls, especially those who are your age. 

“I think representation is key. Just having other people that look like you is huge, knowing that you're not the only person in your community that is interested in your sport. 

“It was fun doing all the drills I did when I was younger - it's so amazing to know how far you've come! Naturally, when you get older, the game gets more serious but when you're younger, it's just pure fun. That's a huge starting point." 

“It’s so good to see any girl try to get into the game but even better to see lots from different ethnic backgrounds getting involved,” said Araya Dennis, who is currently on loan with Crystal Palace in the Women’s Championship. 

Araya Dennis helps coach some of the budding footballers

“These workshops are really important in supporting people from different backgrounds so they can aspire towards a career in football. Having role models is really important and  initiatives like these mean that the next generation will have something to look up to.” 

“In our academy, we have lots of diversity throughout the age groups with young girls and boys as well. There are some big talents coming through the ranks so I think in time, we’re going to see that grow!” 

Academy psychologist Sapna Trehan Sharma was delighted by the event’s turnout and what it meant for the future of growing the game’s diversity.  

“I’ve been working in football for 13 years now and coming through, there were never very many South Asian people working in football. That's slowly starting to increase but you can see that we're still behind in terms of players coming through. 

“We know there are lots of physical and psychological benefits that come from participating in sports, but there’s also the social side as well. Even if it is your first time just being in the community and seeing other people, being able to connect with others and build those relationships.

“Hopefully, the enjoyment side is what gets them going first and then there could be a lot of hidden talent there. Then in time, when they’re coming regularly, who knows - we could have the next star player!” 

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