Bradford’s inner city areas are full of untold stories featuring youngsters who one had a dream and are still in pursuit of that one chance to improve their lives and make their families proud. Unfortunately, opportunity doesn’t always knock on the door.
Irfan Khan is one individual who has always gone against the tide. Since a young age, Khan knew exactly what he wanted to achieve in his life despite the pressure by his parents pushing him towards becoming a solicitor or a doctor. Now in his mid-twenties, Khan still has a burning desire to succeed as a professional footballer. A dream that he first had growing up in the Toller area of Bradford, playing with his friends in the street where he was born.
The passion is clearly evident as we meet for a coffee. Unfortunately there is also a hint of sadness veiled within the hunger to succeed. Like others who have dreams to succeed but are constantly hindered with their progression due to ongoing obstacles life throws in their path, Khan is made of much sterner stuff and is still seeking that opportunity to prove himself at the elite level.
He tells Urban Echo, “I started at the Brazilian Soccer School in Leeds at the age of fifteen. I remember finishing school and catching two buses to Leeds to attend the school on my own. I was lucky to meet the Brazilian legend Socrates, and also managed to have a kick around with him. Initially I lied to parents because I told them I was studying Science at college but in reality I was studying Sports. I felt bad about it but I had no choice. It was only after sitting down with my parents and explaining to them how much football and sports meant to me, they finally understood and gave me their blessings.”
Like many south Asian families residing in the UK, pressure by the parents to push their children into professions they are not interested in, is an ongoing conflict. But as Khan has demonstrated by communicating with his parents in a reasonable and logical manner, the results can be positive and rewarding.
“At the age of seventeen, my friend informed me one day that the Pakistani national team were holding trials in Rotherham. There were 700 aspiring footballers who attended and only five places were up for grabs. After weeks of trials, I was informed that I had been selected. I couldn’t believe that I had been selected and quickly rushed home to tell my family.”
After his selection and making his family proud, Khan packed his bags and went to train with the Pakistani U19 team in Lahore for four months. The experience was exactly what the seventeen year old needed and upon arriving back to the UK, he received a telephone call from a friend.
“After arriving back from Pakistan, my old friend Sean Reagan informed me that he had managed to get me a trial at Scunthorpe United. I went for a couple of months and the trials went better than I expected. I honestly believed that this was firmly in the bag,” he states.
In reality, this was Khan’s first encounter with the harsh realities of life. He had been unsuccessful with his application and it left the youngster bewildered at Scunthorpe United’s decision.
After another stint with the National Pakistan football team in 2011 where he played in front of crowds exceeding 35,000 in Malaysia, Khan’s determination to succeed was growing day by day. Upon returning back to the UK, the central mid-fielder played two seasons with the semi-professional local team Thakley and then moved on to Bradford Park Avenue.
Since 2012, Khan has continued to have trials with Swindon Town, Aldershot and Halifax Town, but has had no luck. He questions why these clubs are not taking him on as many people within the football circles believe in his skill and potential. According to his older brother Amar, who accompanies Khan to all his trials, he thinks there could be other underlying reasons.
“One has to question why there are hardly any south Asian footballers in the English leagues because there are some extremely talented lads out there. At some trials we felt quite uncomfortable and at times I witnessed other footballers not passing the ball to Irfan during the games. Irfan is as good as any other footballer at any level. He really is that good.”
Khan continues, “I think being of Asian descent is also a factor. I have never played the race card but if it happens in front of your eyes, you cannot ignore it. I grew up in Bradford, a multicultural city and I have friends from all different races and backgrounds. My fitness level is at its peak and I continue to train six days a week. All I need is that one opportunity to prove myself.”
Whatever the future may hold for Irfan Khan, he has been on a journey that only he has travelled. Approaching the peak of his football skills at the age of twenty-five, Khan just needs that one chance to prove himself. Bradford City, if you are reading this, how about giving a Bradford born lad that one opportunity he craves for?