Reaching My Goal

Manisha Tailor has only ever had one passion: football. But when her twin brother fell ill, she lost all motivation for the game and gave up on her dreams. Years later she turned her life around and is now one of the countries most inspiring champions of disability and sport. In and exclusive interview with Asiana.TV, she opens up about her story…

Posted: 02.10.13

Everyone has their own inspiration or reason behind their passion. My passion for football started with my twin brother. Back in 1988, when Liverpool were the cream of the crop, (which explained my dad’s support for them), I began playing the sport with my brother. We were only eight, and went to the same school as each other. Being from quite the sporty family, we both continued playing despite being sent to separate secondary schools. It did dishearten me slightly that at the time, there were no girls’ teams within the school, and that after a certain age you could not compete league-wise with the boys. But I kept on playing. My brother would bring his friends along, and we’d still have our weekend matches. He made sure that I never felt left out.

I had a talent. One that was recognised, and could be developed. I was scouted by Barnet at the age of nine, which is the average age of recruitment. But culture decided to rear its ugly head. Despite being accepted by the academy, I didn’t go forward with it. My mum said that I should only play in school, and that she didn’t have the time to take me to training, and that it was not proper. Then there was the real reason. She worried how it would be perceived if her Asian daughter began playing a higher level of football rather than focusing on becoming a doctor or lawyer. I could understand her concern at the time, especially with the cultural stigmatism attached to professional sports. But I was highly disappointed, as any nine year old would be. Nowadays, she has eased up a whole lot. I sometimes joke; ‘Hey, mum, I could be playing for Arsenal Ladies right now and be earning thousands a week,’ and we laugh. It was a path not taken, but as a result, I have acquired two degrees and have successfully been utilising my education to use in the game, and have carried on into coaching.

After secondary school, I carried on playing and tried to get more into the sport, and at 18, felt like I was really going to make my mark. Then I stopped. My brother, my inspiration, and my reason for loving the sport, had fallen ill. A dark shadow enveloped over the family, and my playing days ceased. The extreme case of illness brought the family a lot closer in solidarity, whilst also dividing us slightly in desperation. Even now, after over 15 years since the incident occurred, he has not recovered. He suffers from mental health issues and requires one-to-one care. I found it difficult not only to accept that he was in such a condition, but also that the very foundation of my love for football had collapsed. I did not have the heart to play.

I became a teacher at a local Hindu school later in 2003. It had been quite a few years since the incident. I would stare out the window, and watch intently the football matches that the kids would play outside. I was fixated, and could feel myself yearning to go outside and join them, but a haunting memory of my brother would always make it a bittersweet longing.

Then one day, I just thought: ‘What have I got to lose?’ So I picked myself up, had a kick about, and realised how much I really did miss the game. My first step was to ask the school’s head teacher, a staunch Leicester City fan, to allow me to set up teams, as there were none at the time. Changing from my work suit into my tracksuit, I managed the boys’ team, and organised sixth formers from the other institution to play against the staff. I started to focus on the positives of the game, and of my past memories kicking a ball around with my brother. It was a great coping mechanism which not only benefitted me, but everyone else. Even my twin would see me now and then in a kit, and acknowledge the association between me and the football we played. I saw it as a step towards helping him recover.

With my mum suffering from long term stress, and my little sister being scarred mentally from an early age, both from the incident, it has been difficult to look after everyone in the family. But it has also driven me to pursue a specific area in football; that which is taboo. I write columns on a regular basis to hit topical issues that are not spoken about, like mental health, disability and sport. I work closely with the owner of Dash in Hillingdon to combat the negative perception of disability in sport. I was proud to see one boy named Nimesh qualify to be a football coach despite his disability, proving that football can be used to get over social and emotional issues and help the wider community.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure that it is well known how sport is stigmatised negatively in Asian culture. There is a massive issue of how it is perceived. Initially I didn’t see it as a career choice, but rather as a hobby, or as an ‘addition to’ something else. What is lacking is a sense of understanding or dedication. If you want to play professionally, you need to be snapped up early and not at an age where you think it is worthwhile after you have already gotten your degree.

I currently scout for Brentford Football Club, and I have to look for players that are exceptional between 6-12, and then give them a trial. From then on, if successful, they will be enrolled on to a development centre. Less than 1% from the academies make it into professional football but even if they do not play, there are a huge variety of jobs within the sport, including physiotherapy, coaching, administration... The list is endless.

It is disappointing that there are only a few Asian male football role models, let alone female ones. The younger generations have only but a few names to aspire to be like. Kick It Out run free programmes to become a qualified coach, but no one in the community knows or cares as it isn’t a degree. We need a pioneer. Like how Prince Naseem or Amir Khan became the Asian sensations in boxing to bring attention to the sport, so it gains acceptance from the Asian community. I really do hope the current generation pushes forward on this front.

In terms of my own career I qualified as a head teacher, and was on a very lucrative salary but I decided to leave it to pursue my passion. It has taken two years of unsociable hours, risk taking, voluntary work, and balancing my difficult home life, but I am starting to make my mark. Even when doors have been closed on me, and despite surviving off my savings and being only being paid for coaching I do for two hours a days, I still marched on. I am starting to reap the benefits now. I do not regret one bit of it. I also have the support of my parents, and that’s all I need to feel accepted.

One of the women who has been a major inspiration to me is Arsenal Ladies captain, Rachel Yankey. Meeting her during a football education project back in 2004, we became friends and ever since have worked with each other to promote the female side of the game. She helped bounce off my ideas to further improve education, whilst mentoring me in the more physical aspects of the game. It really helps to have a professional believe in the work that you are doing.

It also helps to stay physically fit too if you want to be on top of the game. Whenever I’m not training or coaching, I go to the gym, and focus on my cardio and core, as well as interval training to match the nature of the sport. Despite being 33 this year, I try to stay strong and lead a healthy lifestyle. This includes food too like eating crackers instead of biscuits and reducing red my intake of red meat. You feel more energetic as your body adapts and responds to long term change in a better manner. Personally, I do not suffer from burnout. My knowledge of the body is valuable in this instance, but also because of my positive mentality. I keep a picture of my brother on my phone as a background, where he kisses me as I hold a doll in my hand. It reinvigorates me more than anything else would. And reminds me that we have got to use the time we have, as we do not have a lot of it.

The award nominations I have been receiving have been an honour. It excites me, but I tend to see as a result of my efforts and don’t allow it to become a cushion of comfort. I would only want to win such awards to gain recognition for the area of work I’m involved in. If more people become aware of disability and sport and believed my dream of bringing the community closer, then I would be happy. After being nominated for the Asian Women in Sports award in May, I have recently made the shortlist again for the Woman in Football award in the mainstream Asian Football Awards which is taking place at Wembley stadium on the 8th October. It truly is an honour, and I hope to use the opportunity to spread my message of how football can benefit society the whole.

I have some parting words for anyone who is not only interested in football, but anything which they feel may not have approval for by the wider community. Don’t listen. Anyone else’s perception apart from those who are the closest to you and truly care for your own future does not matter. Just keep doing what you want to achieve and aspire. Willpower is needed to do such things, so remain strong and remember the joy it brings you. It does not matter who you are, where you come from, or what the community thinks; when you follow your passions, you will succeed and shine.

Follow Manisha and keep up with her successes on Twitter: @ManishaTailor1

Interview by Omar Mehab

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