Grassroots football is the heart and soul of the game. For the hundreds of thousands of participants, it is their opportunity to be involved in a sport they are truly passionate about.

Kick It Out will speak to figureheads and representatives of the grassroots game, in a series exclusive to the organisation’s website, as they offer their unique thoughts from the amateur and community level.

Charlie MacKinnon spoke to former Bangayol FC manager Shadab Iftikhar on how he began coaching, his experiences as a British-Asian coach, and the limitations faced whilst trying to make his name in the world of football.

Shadab has always had a passion for the game, but his most difficult decision was how to turn that enthusiasm into a career. It was from a young age that he decided that pathway was through coaching.

“I decided I wanted to manage at the top level; I just worked hard and did my coaching badges. I did my level 1 at 17 and passed my A licence at 22. I did as many coaching sessions as I could, the majority to start off with were voluntary.

“I continued to dedicate myself every day, working long hours, just to become the best I could be.”

Alongside his coaching badges, Shadab gained experience within the industry at amateur and non-league levels at the likes of Stockport Sports, Droylsden and Cefn Druids. But his biggest breakthrough came through an opportunity with current Belgium national men’s team manager Roberto Martinez.

Shadab, who now holds a UEFA ‘A’ Licence, worked with Martinez for four years as a scout during the Spaniard’s time at Everton and Wigan Athletic, an experience he feels shaped him as a coach.

“Roberto Martinez was always there for me, he developed me to such an extent. I progressed quicker under him than any course could’ve done. It’s important that there are more people like him in English football,” he said.

Despite the opportunity provided to him by Martinez, Shadab is all too aware of some of the barriers he has faced as a young Asian coach.

“From an early stage I realised that any doors that opened I needed to knock down myself. I spent most of myself travelling on the M6, just going to watch sessions.

“It was one of those things where I had to get myself known, it wasn’t a case of having a playing background to support me. I knew if I was to do this, I had to do it the old-fashioned way. I had to put my head down and dedicate everything.”

“It was more important just to get out there, meet different people, work, coach and try to improve daily. I didn’t really come across too many BAME coaches, many were happy to just be in the game. It was surprising -  I was the only Asian on the A-Licence”.

When asked on the reasons why there are limited opportunities for coaches, Shadab thinks it’s too much a case of who you know rather than what you know. He stressed how he has always been focused on being independent whilst trying to progress.

“It was never about who I know, it was about what I know. Those people who I know aren’t going to help me when I’m at the top of management. I’ll have to rely on what I know, it’s unfortunate that in football it is a case of who you know.”

Following his time with Martinez, Shadab took on a bold new challenge in Mongolia through becoming manager of Bayangol FC. He spent a season with the team alongside duties as the assistant to the head coach of the Mongolian national team.

Despite a successful stint in the far East, Shadab knows the difficulties he continues to face as he aims to progress in England.

“The reality is that me getting a break in England is never going to happen until I prove myself abroad. I’ve got more chance of getting a break abroad than in England.

“You have to have your own ideas and way of thinking. You have to have your own personality. That’s the most important thing,” he stressed.

“I’m here because I deserve to be here, I’ve earned my right to coach and gain my A-Licence.

“Even at lower-league football I wasn’t getting a look-in, even though I was qualified and had good recommendations. People don’t realise the troubles that come along with it. People look at you two or three times sometimes when you go on these courses. When you are there they think you have no ambition. You have to prove yourself even more.”