Zesh Rehman wants to be remembered for inspiring others to have football career

Jonathan Veal, PA
·4-min read

Zesh Rehman created history after becoming the first British-Pakistani to play in the Premier League but wants to be remembered for inspiring others to do the same.

The 37-year-old played 30 times for Fulham between 2004 and 2006 and remains the only player from that background to play at the highest level of English football.

It is an achievement that no one will ever be able to take away from him, but he says it will mean nothing unless it helps others from similar backgrounds believe they could have a career in professional football.

Rehman, who is closing in on 500 career games and is currently player-manager of Southern FC in Hong Kong, told the PA news agency: “That is something that I will always be proud of, but for me it would be even better if that achievement is used in some way to make a difference and inspire people to follow and hopefully increase numbers across the board.

“Not just players, but boardrooms, media departments, finance departments. There are various jobs available in football and by being visible in the game it will inspire people to be involved in professional football.

“That is the bigger picture about what legacy I would like to leave, not just being remembered for being a player, but someone who did make a difference.

“From a young age it was a dream to break that barrier, that final ceiling in the game to come through and inspire not just people from similar backgrounds, but from all backgrounds.

“I am hoping to inspire more people to believe that it is possible to have a journey in the game no matter what their background.”

Having been the first player of his race to play at such a level, Rehman could have been open to abuse within the game.

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But he said he was not subjected to racism during his time in professional football and said he also received fair treatment from the media.

“In professional football you have to fit into the dressing room culture in England, which is a big thing, and know how to embrace all of your team-mates and crowd,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, there is some hostile crowds and you hear comments but at that time you know how to do your talking on the pitch. It was mainly at the younger ages where you got the odd comment, but at that age you are just focused on playing that it goes over your head.

“There were no articles that I read that I thought were harsh or could have been worded differently.

“I had some good write-ups, it was all positive in terms of breaking the mould and being a pioneer, so there wasn’t anything that affected me.”

Rehman, right, played 21 times for Fulham in the Premier League between 2004 and 2006
Zesh Rehman, right, played 21 times for Fulham in the Premier League between 2004 and 2006 (Nick Potts/PA)

Rehman has spent the last 10 years in Asia and in that time he has obtained his UEFA Pro Coaching License and a degree in sports management in a bid to get ahead of the game.

As the only current British-Pakistani professional player with a UEFA Pro License, he is building experience as a player-manager in Hong Kong and hopes one day to return to the English game and further boost the numbers of black and ethnic minority managers and coaches.

“I am really enjoying the challenges, I am learning every day,” he said. “The aspirations are to come back and be a coach at a club where I can help.

“Maybe even an assistant, a development coach, not necessarily a head coach straight away, something I can learn at and continue to develop.

“This is a good platform to get good experience of day-to-day coaching, decision-making, recruitment, budgeting, all these kind of things which is good experience.

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Five of this season’s 33 managerial appointments, 15.2 per cent, have been black or of minority ethnicity (PA graphic)

“There is an upward curve and there is a different journey of those guys in there. There are a lot of role models there to look up to, there is a lot of belief that it can be done and hopefully people can follow suit and have a long coaching career, something like Chris Hughton has done.”

Rehman’s desire to make a difference has seen him work alongside Danny Batth, Malvind Benning, Otis Khan, Easah Suliman and Neil Taylor on a Professional Footballers’ Association programme, headed up by his brother Riz Rehman, designed to help players from all backgrounds with their journey in football.

“Over the years I have been bombarded with letters and emails and requests from parents and students and players.

“This initiative helps them to get first-hand insight, mentoring on issues they are likely to face in the system whether they are an academy player, a scholar or first-team player.

“The aim is to make their journey a little bit easier and to give back. It is nice to know you can make a small difference but potentially change someone’s life.”