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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

“We are representing Bantams and having some banter” Dozens of South Asian women watched Bradford City play this weekend – a first for many

Around thirty women from the Inspirational Women Foundation watched Bradford City play Northampton Town over the weekend – for many, this was their first time watching a professional football game.

Nearly 30 women from the south Asian community attended a football match, Bradford City versus Northampton Town over the weekend – the first watching a game live for many of them.

Women from the Inspirational Women Foundation (IWF) were invited to watch Bradford City play at their home ground by Humayun Islam BEM, chief executive of BEAP, a community centre based in Manningham.

The trip comes aptly timed during Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) and the racism row at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) and Azeem Rafiq, who gave evidence to parliament about his abhorrent treatment at the club by fellow cricketers and management.

For most of us, it was our first time watching a live football game,

Open to all women of different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, the IWF supports, influences, and empowers women from across the Bradford District, to partake in sport and exercise classes while simultaneously building friendships and a support system for its members.

BEAP has linked up with the IWF to provide the women from the group with a match game experience on home soil at Bantams Stadium to increase engagement and diversity at games.

For most women, including myself, it was the first time watching a football game in a stadium. Watching a live football game was never something I, or some of the ladies from IWF, thought we would do, despite many of them playing the sport.

When discussing this pre-match, we all shared the same thoughts – that football games aren’t targeted to women, especially women from the South Asian community. We shared the idea that when you think of football fans, they are groups of rowdy men who are often loud or aggressive and that it isn’t a welcoming space, especially when you are wearing a hijab.

Kick it Out, a charity that is English Football’s equality and inclusion organisation found that in 2019, racism is on the rise within football, being the most reported hate crime to the charity. They found that faith-based discrimination including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism rose by 75% from the previous year.

Mr Islam provided us with t-shirts to keep and food to eat at the game.

Our match game experience at Bradford City was the complete opposite. As a big group we protected each other and having Fiz Ahmed, an ex-police officer for thirty years, and my no-nonsense boss and founder of IWF, Fatima Patel, with us, we felt safe.

There were one or two looks by members of the public, but they swiftly moved on. When taking a group photo outside BEAP before the match, one older white gentleman excitedly stood to grab a picture of us.

There were a couple of enthusiastic men shouting and using profanities during the game, mostly when a player had failed to execute a move properly or when the other team secured the ball but overall, the experience was tame, and everyone had a nice time.

When Bradford scored a goal during the second half of the game it felt magical. For around thirty seconds Bradford City fans came together as a community and celebrated as a collective. For this one little moment, we were a whole, and this is what cemented my experience, and is the reason why pushing for everyone in Bradford who enjoys football, men, women and children from all ethnicities and backgrounds to watch the game in the stadium is so important.

Despite over a quarter of Bradford’s population being South Asian, there were few South Asian faces, and even fewer South Asian women, in the Bantams stands.

Humayun Islam BEM and IWF founder and CEO Fatima Patel.

Mr Islam had also kindly provided us with food, something he does for every guest he takes to the home matches because there are no halal options available at the stadium.

As a vegetarian for over a decade myself, the lack of provisions for people with alternative diets, such as halal, is disappointing but not shocking.

Speaking before the match, Mr Islam said: “For me, providing an opportunity for people to have a match game experience is important to me. It is about normalizing going to the game, it should not just be men or south Asian men going and if anything, it is always women taking and picking up their children at football training and matches.

The football match is an opportunity for you all to come together and enjoy the experience. I have been doing this since 2015, and we have taken lots of diverse groups to have a match game experience and it has always been positive.

“Women must lead and take their children to the match it shouldn’t just be men taking their children to the game.”

Despite one or two looks, everyone had a nice time at the game.

Before this match, Hareem, 23, who works in administration, had never gone to a football match despite wanting to start her own football team with some of the women from IWF. She said: “I am really grateful to be here watching Bradford City. It is nice to get everyone together, the solidarity and the sheer comradery, it is amazing.

“We are all excited, we have the Bradford City scarves, we’ve got people chipping in, we’ve got food and having a laugh. We are representing Bantams and having some banter.

“We are forming a football team at the moment, but it is a work in process. Anyone who wants to play should not be afraid, just don’t think about being judged, just get yourself out there. This community is so inclusive of other people and so diverse, you will be amazed.

“It will surprise you how inclusive this community is.”

One IWF member said: “I felt very excited and nervous at the same time, once I was there, I felt content. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to have my first footy match experience. The atmosphere when we scored was euphoric, I absolutely loved that bit, also cheering and chanting throughout!

“I only noticed a few people looking as you don’t often see many Asian women at matches but didn’t feel unsafe at any point because of the comfort of our group and it wasn’t done in a negative way, rather curiosity. I’m really grateful to IWF for giving us these experiences!”

Ex-police officer Fiz Ahmed enjoying a samosa from one of the food packets Mr Islam provided.

Another said: “I was worried at first, especially as we had samosas and pakoras as our snack packs, but there was a couple behind us who said, that food smells lovely. It was a nice atmosphere.

“Before agreeing to come to football I was really apprehensive as I wear a headscarf and you hear all sorts in the news, as we got into the stadium a white man was shouting ‘Don’t let them in’ I looked back worried but realised that he was saying that to Leeds fans. You can’t help feeling anxious, but luckily nothing occurred, and it was a great experience.”

Founder and CEO of the Inspirational Woman Foundation, Fatima Patel said: “I am really grateful to Humayun Islam for helping make this matchday possible, as the experience has helped our women gain confidence and removed any anxiety of being able to watch football at the stadium.

“With the racism issue in sport and also Islamophobia awareness month, events like these, help bring something positive to the table and hopefully with these kinds of activities we are taking steps in the right direction to make playing and watching sports more inclusive.”

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