Who I am
If you walked pass me, I look like your average British South Asian Muslim Women, but thats as far as it goes when it comes to identifying me because even though I may look like your stereotypical Asian Muslim women due to the fact my head is covered by a headscarf, I am in fact a football coach who lives in her training kit and has more trainers than high heels and loves nothing better than watching Match Of The Day instead of going out with her friends & family on Saturday night... let me introduce you to the REAL Annie Zaidi.
My love for the game started when I was a little girl and having 2 older brothers it was inevitable that I became a tomboy, playing football in the back garden started of just wanting to hang out with my brothers but slowly it developed into a passion, now 20 years on, my passion is becoming my career. Believe me when I say that to get this far it has literally been blood, sweat & tears, my story is not one to make you feel sorry for me for all the trials & tribulations i have and still experiencing as a football coach, but a story of empowerment & determination of a female football coach fighting for equality and respect in a male dominant industry, but being a Asian Muslim Women who wears a headscarf trying to make it in this industry is the most challenging experience I have experience as not only have I been ostracized from the wider community which was expected but sadly I have to some extent been ostracized from my own Asian community as they perceived me coaching both men & women as a taboo and some regard me as a bad role model within the Asian community. One thing people don't know about me is that I am a very focused, headstrong determined woman who strives better when people tell me I cant or that I shouldn't, hence my motto being: They can take my ball away from me but they couldn't take away my passion!
Whilst studying at Durham University for MA Community & Youth Work Studies, I took my first ever training session with a group of 16 - 24 year old Geordie lads in North Benwell, one of the most deprived areas of Newcastle, oh one thing I forgot to mention was that I was in Newcastle after the tragic events of 7/7 & 9/11, so you could imagine how us decent Muslim citizens were perceived by others being influenced by the media representation of us. So imagine me, a 5ft 2in, Asian, Muslim Female coach carrying a ball bag walking across to the astro turf being watched by 40 stocky Georgie lads who were in disbelief when they found out I was their coach for the next 12 weeks, twice a week for 2 hour session, it was literally a Kodak moment. The more i tried to get myself involved with them the more i got knocked down, bruised legs, elbow to my ribs, but the more i got knocked down the quicker and more determined I got back up... thats just the type of person I am! The more I returned for the coaching sessions the greater the respect for me grew to the point that the lads had my back. This experience made me realise that football was more than just a game it was such a powerful tool that it helped break down social barriers & created community cohesion as 12 weeks ago the lads perceived me as everything but a coach, but through my determination, resilience and love for the game within 12 weeks, they saw me as Coach Annie, my new identity was formed.
I knew being a female coach I needed to earn respect I had to take my coaching badges so after I achieved my FA Level 1 the next step was to achieve my FA Level 2 as it would show everyone how serious I was about being a top level coach. I began my managerial role, managing a Sunday league team, a dream every girl wishes for, waking up on cold wet mornings, setting up training session in the local park or preparing for match day on cold frosty Sunday morning. Out of 400 managers I was the ONLY women Manger which ruffled a few male feathers especially when my team gained 3 points on match day, not only they lost a game, but losing to a team managed by a female hurt them more as they weren't expecting to find a female manager waiting for them on the sideline on Sunday morning.
Sadly as much as I loved managing a Sunday league team, I had to step down due to the harsh reality I was experiencing most Sunday morning of racism & sexism from opposition team managers and parents. I remember the day i decided it was time to step down from being a manager was because a manager not only did he taunted me throughout the game but he refused to shake my hand before & after the game - not sure it was because I was a female or I was a Asian or for both reasons, either way it was the ugly side of football I experienced and I wasn't going to let it ruin my passion for the game.
Where am I today? well I have been appointed National Ambassador for Sporting Equals, Women in Football & Football for Peace, these three national organisation have been my backbone when no one else wanted to support my coaching pathway, in fact without my mentor Wallace (Co-founder of BACA) I would not have achieved all that I have as he saw potential in me when no one else did and all that he predicted for me has or is coming true. Right now I am undertaking my UEFA B License, whilst being employed by The FA as BAME Elite Coach Mentee.
My proudest moment is coaching at Leicester City Football Club Centre of Excellence, a dream which people told me it would just be a dream as it would be difficult for someone like me break down the glass ceiling as my image, being a Asian Muslim who wears a hijab, wasn't an image a professional club would want to promote, well guess what the so called glass ceiling doesn't exist and like i said before I am a very strong focused determined individual who always gets what she works hard for despite the many knocks back I have experienced.
I am so privilege to now have some real support behind me pushing me along for me to become a successful coach, I am honoured to have both QPR Director Les Ferdinand & QPR Technical Director Chris Ramsey supporting me with my UEFA B license but also they are there for words of advise as they have both experienced everything that I have and if it wasn't for them and my other heroes including Chris Houghton, Hope Powell, Chris Powell& Terry Connor, I wouldn't have been able to get this far as these great heroes have loosened the hinges of the football pathway for someone like me to go through, therefore it is my duty now to achieve my UEFA A and get a full-time coaching job at professional job to make sure the door is fully open for other aspiring female coaches to walk through and not experience the ugly side of beautiful game which i love.
There is something special about football the moment the ball touches my sole/soul it makes me become alive and the training ground is where I belong and feel the most safest as there are no barriers or labels as I can be Coach Annie!