Book Review: Cultural melting pot: story of an Asian football casual

22nd Feb 2013

By Muhammad Khan

Cultural melting pot: story of an Asian football casual

Khan: Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, by Riaz Khan, Leicester: Countdown Books. pp254. PB. 2012. £7.99.

The author of this book was born in Leicester in 1965 to a family of Pakistani-Afghani heritage. Riaz Khan was born in Highfields area which was the city’s multicultural heartland consisting of Asian, Black and Polish immigrants, although subsequently he grew up in a largely white area.

1950s and 1960s was an important period in modern British history as immigrants from many former British colonies (eg, Indo-Pak Subcontinent and the Caribbean) were invited to come to Britain to help rebuild the country after the devastation of the Second World War. Although at present a third of the population of Leicester are of non-British ethnic background, the majority are Asians whose parents and grandparents came to Britain soon after the war. Most of those early settlers were young, single men who came here to carve out a better life for themselves and their families.

Subsequently, most of them went back to their countries of origin, married and returned to Britain with their young families. According to the author, “most Asians that arrived in Leicester tended to live in Belgrave and Highfields, eventually spreading out to other areas of the city. They lived in areas where they felt safe (like tidy little ghettos), where they set up small communities and small businesses.” (p xvi) By all accounts, the early settlers were hardworking, very passive and law-abiding citizens unlike their British-born children who were more confident, assertive and often unwilling to turn the other cheek in the face of any challenge or provocation, racial or otherwise.

The author of this book belonged to this new generation of British-born Asians who openly embraced the popular youth culture of the day – jazz funk, soul, martial arts and football hooliganism. Despite experiencing National Front-inspired racism, xenophobia and a form of cultural alienation, the author became one of the first few Asians (and young Muslims) to adopt football’s ‘casual’ culture during the early 1980s. Caught in a cultural no-man’s land, he and his friends broke down cultural barriers and taboos with ease. One of the most fashionable things to do at the time was to be a member of the Baby Squad, the Leicester City hooligan firm, of which Khan and his friends became dedicated followers.

In his own words, “It was the early 1980s that saw the rise of the football ‘Casual’ – otherwise known as the ‘Trendy’. This was the origin of the fashions and the designer clothing that are now a common sight in up and down the high streets of the United Kingdom…The Casual also became associated with violence. It was not just about the clothes that you wore, but also whether your crew could stand their ground. People judged you by the clothes that you wore (as they still do today) and the smarter you looked, the more respect you gained. It was the same with football hooliganism, where you could gain respect for either your fighting abilities or the way you were dressed. If you had both, then you would automatically become a ‘top boy’.” (p xi)

Divided into 44 short sections and a preface and introduction, in this book the author recounts his early life as one of the first Asians to adopt football’s ‘casual’ culture – being far removed from his traditional Pakistani and Muslim culture and values, as well as mainstream British norms and practices. The author and his friends – Asians, Blacks and Whites – all so different in terms of their race, faith and cultural upbringing, were however united by their love for the popular ‘casual’ football culture of the early 1980s.

They inhabited a world of their own, being so similar and yet so different, it was almost a world within a world. Given its rich and hugely diverse colonial past, only Britain could have created such a melting pot in the heart of our great nation – Khan and his friends, of the Baby Squad, are a living proof of this important fact!

This is an interesting and informative book as it sheds new light on an important but much neglected period in Britain’s modern popular culture. However, the book suffers from poor editorial work and the design and layout also leaves a lot to be desired. Countdown Books have not done justice to themselves, but the author deserves much credit for his efforts. Recommended reading.

Muhammad Khan is author of The Muslim 100 (reprinted 2011) and The Muslim Heritage of Bengal (forthcoming, June 2013).

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