Birmingham City academy prospect Layla Banaras says the dream remains to play for the Blues and England.
Banaras was described as an outstanding youngster by former Birmingham Women manager Carla Ward, and last season produced a nutrition guide and meal planner to better prepare Muslim athletes for fasting during Ramadan.
The 15-year-old ball-playing defender, whose mother is English and father is Pakistani, started out playing at Solihull Moors before earning the opportunity to train with Birmingham.
Opening up on her journey in the game in an FA video released to coincide with South Asian Heritage Month, Banaras said: “Blues do coaching sessions every Friday, and two weeks in they asked me if I wanted to sign.
“At first. I said I’ll think about it. I took a few steps away and I went back and I was like, no, I will sign. [Looking back] I couldn’t believe it. It’s the team my whole family support, and like, they wanted to sign me!
“It’s been my dream, ever since I was little, to play for England and the Birmingham first team. I just want to make that dream come true.”
Banaras is one of a number of ethnically diverse players across different academy age groups at Birmingham Women, who take a proactive approach to female talent identification across the Midlands.
“We’ll do open trials every year in June where we’ll put advertisements out via social media and then girls and parents will sign up,” head of youth development at Birmingham City Women Paul Cowie said.
“It’s a huge commitment [at academy level] to be honest. Girls training, especially the younger ones twice a week. Parents are a massive part of the girls’ journey. And I probably don’t think the girls realise that until they get older.”
Southgate: Banaras making South Asian girls believe
England manager Gareth Southgate says rising stars like tough-tackling Banaras will give other South Asian girls the belief that they too can forge a career in the women’s game.
“Breakthrough players are so important,” the England manager said.
“When one or two players start to get into Premier League clubs and into the WSL and putting on an England shirt, then again, it opens up the possibility.
“The game is growing, and now we’ve got some Asian girls who are who are on that pathway. Then again [that sends out a message to] young Asian girls watching, who will sit and think, OK, why not me?”
Mishra: Whole community proud of Jhamat
One player Banaras can take inspiration from is England youth international Simran Jhamat, who Sky Sports News exclusively revealed was making a historic move to Bristol City Women after opting to leave Lewes FC at the end of her contract.
Charlton Women assistant Riteesh Mishra, who is the most senior British South Asian coach in the women’s game, says Sikh-Punjabi female Jhamat is a flagbearer for South Asians in the game.
“I’m pleased for her and proud of her that she has stayed in this division as well,” Mishra told Sky Sports News.
“The Championship is a really tough division and she has got great potential and pedigree, and somebody that I spoke to during the off-season.
“I’m really proud of her and her family that she has found a good club where she can continue her development. Somebody like her is hugely important in women’s football because she is a flagbearer for South Asians who are female.
“Even at our Open Day [at The Valley], I could see families and girls from the South Asian community.
“If they can see players like Simran playing at that high level, it gives young girls belief in their dreams that it can actually be done, and in five or six years’ time, they could be that Simran, and they could be the next one to make that step into a professional club.
“She should be proud and as somebody from the same background and same culture [I can say that] we’re all proud of her.”
British South Asians in Football
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