Thirty years ago it’s unimaginable to think of local football without the diversity of skill and spirit black and asian players bring to the game.
Shasha Khan started one of the first BAME football teams in south London and definitely the first in Croydon.
Here, Shasha explains how Croydon was nothing like the diverse area it is today. and how all the teams consisted entirely of white players.
‘I should let you know that the team is made entirely of Black and Asian players. Would that be a problem?’”
The Secretary of the Thornton Heath and District league was probably not expecting such a question, but his affirmative response: ‘No I don’t see that being a problem,’ was the assurance required.
The season had already started but unlike Croydon Sunday League the Thornton Heath and District League – a Saturday league consisting of two divisions – were accepting late entries.
I found myself having to explain a few times that we were a bunch of Black and Asian players, united by our love of football, who for one reason or another were not playing for other Sunday league teams. The year was 1990 and I was 18-years-old.
Throughout the summer we were playing for fun at Thornton Heath Rec. Nearly all of us had just finished VI form college and as was common back then, we felt comfortable being around people that looked like us.
I had played football in the Shirley Junior leagues in Croydon until I was around 13 but following a couple of incidents of racism at school, I started becoming more skin colour conscious and started hanging around teenagers who looked more like me. I got to know another group of Asian teenagers who were playing in South Norwood Recreation Ground, so it seemed like a natural progression to form a team. Owing to availability, our home ground ended up being South Norwood Rec.
I honestly can’t remember the name of the team that I registered with the London Football Association, a necessary prerequisite for league entry, and owing to current COVID-19 working practices the LFA are not able to check the archives, but it was shortly after registering the team that a sponsor came forward in the form of a halal meat shop on Thornton Heath High Street and so was born Bismillah Group FC!
Sadly we never managed to finish the season. A number of players in our squad started working on Saturdays and after a couple of embarrassing defeats, including one of 22-0, as manager it became difficult to get 11 players to play in deep midwinter!
Nevertheless, united by our ethnicity, we played with great spirit in our first few games, knowing we were part of something special.