Supported by Sported:
Leicester-based Annie Zaidi set up a football group that unlocks opportunities for south Asian women and girls through a safe place to play.
Annie Zaidi looked for the opportunities available and saw only blind spots with nothing in view.
Football was her passion and her pride but for girls from the Black and Asian communities, the route from pitchside to the centre circle was far from a straight line.
“So I started thinking, ‘well, I love football. I love coaching, so I can implement my coaching technique and skills and put back into the community,” she recounts. “And get these girls trained up and coached up and ready to play at a grassroot level.”
Setting up the Annie Z Foundation in 2016 provided a vehicle to accelerate those journeys in offering a safe and comfortable space to women and girls to relish the Beautiful Game.
But she has been driving change for a long time now, from playing with her two elder brothers in her back garden in her youth, to becoming the only female manager in a men’s Sunday League among 400 teams, to gaining her Uefa B License while gaining priceless experience coaching Leicester City’s Under-11s.
A trailblazer, particularly for Muslim women. A campaigner, against some of the racism encountered on the touchline. An advocate for change from within.
“A lot of South Asian men come in to drop their daughters off,” she reflects. “20 years ago, that would be not acceptable. So the culture shift in our community and society is fantastic and a success.
“You see more dads dropping their daughters off, more mums and more dads who are advocating adults come and play football. And you wouldn’t have seen that in our generation when we were growing up because that was like a taboo.”
The Foundation is not just about sport, but sporting chances too. Mentoring and confidence to unlock full potential. Mental health and physical wellbeing hand in hand with acquiring life skills. A pathway that includes social development as well as technical knowledge.
Waqar, a parent of one young participant, sees the benefits to his daughter that last beyond 90 minutes. “She absolutely loves it,” he underlines. “She’s knackered. She smells and she’s sweaty, but she loves it. She enjoys the friendships that she’s building amongst her peers at football as well. And she’s enjoying being able to play.”
Sported injected professional expertise through volunteer consultant Steve Cox who helped the foundation to build a structure that supported their activity. While through the Together Fund and the Barclays Community Football Fund, financial backing was found to underpin their work with Zaidi also taking part in a dedicated programme to create and nurture more female coaches within the sport.
“Annie and her foundation have done an incredible job giving young girls the opportunity to develop self-confidence, self-esteem and their own identity through the sport of football.,” said Sported’s Regional Manager Cheddi Gore.
“We know that women’s sport can lack diversity and in particular representation from ethnically diverse communities. We’ve supported the foundation in addressing that in their community with mentoring through our Volunteer Consultants and resources via the Barclays Community Football Fund to ensure they continue to grow and flourish.”
Yet the work is incomplete and there are new goals to target.
“The Barclays funding was fantastic,” Zaidi underlines. “The brainchild was to have a ladies session backed by the Together Fund which was supported by Sported. And we got 10-12 young mothers coming in, letting their hair down, having a laugh.
“They want to learn skills so they can go out with the daughters and play football. When we were growing up, we were in the kitchen developing a relationship with mum cooking chapatis. Now mums are going in the garden with their daughters and playing football. That’s a cultural shift. And that’s a narrative that we’re changing.”
– Annie Zaidi