Annie Zaidi ǀ Leicester City Football Club, Centre of Excellence

Annie ZaidiI come from a traditional Pakistani Muslim background, I studied BA Hons English Literature at Northampton University and went onto study Durham University to study MA Community Development & Youth Work Studies. I have since obtained my Masters.

Football has also been & still is a huge part of my life since I was a young girl, not sure why but as soon as the ball touches my sole/soul something magical happens and my heart becomes alive.

When I initially started out my first ever coaching role was whilst I was studying for my Masters, I had to do a placement at North Benwell Youth Project, Newcastle. As the project manager knew I loved coaching, he assigned me to coach a group of 40 young men aged between 16-24 for the next 12 weeks…it felt like I was literally thrown in the deepest end of the ocean with no arm bands or boat to keep me afloat. Just imagine a 5ft 2inch woman, who was Asian Muslim & wore a headscarf walking onto the pitch with a bag full of footballs introducing herself to the lads as their new coach for the next 12 weeks. One thing I forgot to mention was that this was after the tragic events of 9/11 & 7/7, therefore peoples perception of Muslims was very negative and hostile. The first few weeks the lads tested me as a coach by tackling me very aggressively which left me with bruises on my legs, sore ribs from elbowing me and I’ve forgotten the number of times I spent on the floor. Despite all this I came back each week more determined and stronger to get the lads to accept me as a coach, which they did and since then they regarded me as a coach.

Whilst doing my FA Level 2 coaching badge, I became a Sunday league manager (out of 400 managers I was the only female manager) i have experiences some vile racism & sexism abuse from opposition managers. I recall one experience in which the opposition manager not only refused to shake my hand before and after the game, but throughout he kept making sly comments about me. After I left the game, I parked my car and started to cry as not his words impacted than his actions of refusing to shake my hand, I was very upset about this as it felt like I wasn’t accepted in the game. Sadly this resulted in me stepping down & quitting being a manager, as i didn’t want this experience to poison my love for the game.

Despite experiencing some very low moments throughout my coaching journey, there have been some achievements in my coaching career, including Winning the Asian Women Achievement AAward 2015 in the sports catergory, & Coaching U11’s at LCFC Girls Centre of Excellence, being a Asian Muslim Female who wears Hijab. I have had people tell me that no professional club or the sport itself would employ me as their coach as I don’t fit the right image/brand, so for me to wear LCFC kit & represent the club every weekend, whether the team are playing home or away against other professional clubs, standing in the manager’s stand feeling proud of how far I had come despite the many barriers, racism & sexism I had to experience.

Currently I am working towards my UEFA B License & even though these may seem like big achievements, I still haven’t achieved anything yet as there is still a long way to go until I achieved what I set out to achieve. Until then, I will continue to eat, breathe, sleep coaching football 25 hours a day 8 days a week.

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