Danny Batth hopes PFA scheme can get players with Asian heritage in England team

Damian Spellman, PA
·3-min read

Danny Batth hopes there will come a point when footballers from Asian backgrounds in the England team can inspire a new generation of players.

Stoke defender Batth is among a group of current professionals with Asian heritage helping to mentor young players as they attempt to make their way in the game under the Professional Footballers Association’s Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme initiative.

AIMS, which has been running as a pilot scheme since early last season and is officially launched on Tuesday, seeks to create a support network for footballers at all levels in the professional game and, ultimately, increase the number of players from the British Asian community.

Asked what his dream outcome would be, Batth told the PA news agency: “You’d always go for a player of Asian background representing England, or definitely the number of players playing in the professional game increasing.

“Also a big one for me is at grass roots level, just increasing kids feeling confident to go and play.

“The best thing about football and sport in general is the barriers it breaks down.

“It would be nice to think that a knock-on effect would be perhaps seeing a kid from an Asian background representing England motivate a young Asian kid to go and play sport with their friends and reap the benefits that it gives everyone who takes part in sport.”

Under the programme Batth, along with the likes of Aston Villa’s Wales international Neil Taylor, Mansfield defender Malvind Benning and Tranmere midfielder Otis Khan, are making themselves available to give advice and guidance to scholars, academy players and their families through meetings and workshops.

Asian and British Asian people account for around 7.5 per cent of the British population, but across the Premier League and Football League this season, there are only 15 professional players from those communities – an all-time high – and just nine scholars coming through behind them.

Aston Villa and Wales defender Neil Taylor is also part of the AIMS initiative
Aston Villa and Wales defender Neil Taylor is also part of the AIMS initiative (Nick Potts/PA)

AIMS, which is part of a five-year PFA strategy, seeks to eradicate the “lazy stereotypes” surrounding Asian youngsters – for example, that their parents would rather they concentrated on their education, or that they prefer cricket or are not physically strong enough – and help them negotiate a path into club academies and beyond.

Riz Rehman, the PFA’s player inclusion executive, told the PA news agency: “The numbers are there, but what they don’t have – they don’t know how to get into an academy at a young age.

“If their son or daughter is the best player at seven, eight, nine, if they are playing within their communities, what they don’t know is how do I go and get a trial at a Crystal Palace or a Fulham?

“Or what leagues do I need to be playing in, what leagues have connections with professional clubs and professional clubs’ development centres?”

The initiative also seeks to educate club staff about cultural considerations, boost the number of Asian coaches in the game and celebrate the achievements of Asian footballers.

Batth, 30, began his career at Colchester and played more than 200 games for Wolves before heading for Stoke via loan spells with Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough, and knows just how difficult the pathway can be.

He said: “Growing up, I didn’t have that guidance or that mentorship from players from my background, so it’s a great position to be able to give that back.”