Football coach of the Saltley Stallions and Equality Officer for the Birmingham FA, Obayed, recently took home a phenomenal victory with his plucky, young team, winning 5-0 at the Birmingham Communities League final, last Saturday 12th May. Before the big game, Obayed told us: “we have been training in a grass-roots sort of way, and it’s always great to play in a stadium and give team members the feeling of professionalism that they deserve. From my side, it’s about focussing and giving the players a great opportunity that allows them to show their incredible talent, to their families and the fans.” You see, though amateur, the Saltley Stallions are no ordinary football squad. Established back in 2011, Obayed uses the platform to help otherwise aimless youth claim their confidence, reducing crime and gang culture and extremism in the area as well as helping lost youth into employment and beyond. “Personally, I have always loved physical education, and while I may not have been the most academic, I’ve always had the drive,” the spirited coach shared. This is what seems to have given Obayed the extended sympathy to some of the youngsters in his area, who had made alternative choices: “just before I graduated, I remember seeing some kids stealing from a store. I decided to stop and ask them why. They seemed apathetic: there was no one helping them so they’d lost all direction.” Sure enough, upon enquiring after a class he might be able to lead in South Birmingham to make a difference, Obayed found there to be no sufficient youth centre at all. “I then started a football team because it’s what motivated me. It is also a popular sport where I live.” Now 2018, Obayed’s starter team has expanded into a buzzing football club. The various teams cover different age-groups and include a women’s faction. “Seeing these young people’s confidence grow with participation, enjoyment and the like-minded bonds that are created out of the sport has been a massive highlight.” So much so that the BBC has even covered Obayed’s immense social success. “I was actually working for Birmingham City Council as well as running the team,” the young motivator elaborated. “There were some vacancies going and I asked if the organisation would give sixteen of my footballers a chance in the office – they have all stayed on.” Obayed has witnessed his “footballers go from having no prospects to becoming managers and directors of companies.”
He is also the co-founder of West Midlands Active Citizens: an extension of his footballing with the Saltley Stallions. He works with different organisations and groups in his regional homestead, including young offenders, to teach those who might not be interested in a formal education to qualify as football coaches, and widely discusses a variety of communal issues. Here, Obayed demonstrates yet another unique facet to his unusually practiced background. Before becoming a football coach, he studied to become an Islamic scholar. “I’d have twelve-hour days, and football was my release. After successfully completing my initial schooling, instead of going down the traditional route of becoming an Imam or teacher, I chose to demonstrate my wisdom through the more extroverted form of football.” As well as youth guidance, Obayed’s model also promotes deep cultural integration. “When we go out after games and at our press conferences for example, I answer questions in a way that will counteract the bias of the mainstream media. I’ll answer from a very authentic Islamic point of view, wherein the scriptures are not taken out of context.” The sport itself also allows people to really bond with each other and for friendships to flourish. “I had a young guy join the team who seemed to have an aversion to Asians after his mother had left the family for an Indian man. Now, after interacting with youth of different backgrounds, he’s made a best friend on the team who’s Asian.” Bringing together different ethnicities and religions in the community then, Obayed not only shows the proactive power of football but also of interpersonal social initiatives as a whole. Indeed, much bigotry and hatred is misplaced anger at a difficult situation rather than the arbitrary notion of skin colour, and becomes explosive when it remains aggravated and unchallenged. “The model certainly allows you to loosen up and work well with other individuals,” Obayed commented. “I’ve helped those who’ve come over from Syria too. They begin to feel more confident and settled into a new culture. When you first come over, it’s daunting to even go down to the shops! “Thus, empathetic and energetic in equal measure, Obayed shows us that kicking down social walls doesn’t just mean aiming for a more functional society, but a fairer one too.
Tell us more about your additional roles?
As an Equality officer, I’ve created the Midnight League. This helps more Muslims engage in the sport at a time of fasting and late prayers. As part of the West Midland Active Citizens, we use sport to actively engage all corners of the local community. Approximately 500 young men, aged between 16-30-year-old turn up for the weekend sessions.
What’s the best part of your diverse, sporty job description?
There are many, but big ones are: being proud of my footballers and their inevitable success and being able to preach and show my religion and culture via sport in a positive manner.
Do you think that football, especially as an intense sport, really builds the confidence of youth which then gets them into suitable jobs?
Absolutely – it socialises people. That gives you confidence from within which comes in very useful at interviews. It boosts everyday morale too so you’re likely to stay on an even track.
Football is often seen as aggressive and antisocial and you’ve also turned that stereotype on its head. Would you say it’s the attitude behind it that allows football to be treated as the rewarding and gripping sport that it is?
Yes, I think the kind of individuals involved always determine a certain approach and by extension, the culture. There have been plenty of good, clean games, free of the hooliganism.
What’s your favourite part of the game?
For me, it’s like art because you have to be very strategic and think through your plays in great detail. I enjoy the tactical outwitting of the opponent combined with spontaneity. A favourite system of mine is the 3,5,2 attacking style.