- Annie Zaidi is the only female Muslim coach with a UEFA B License
- In 2015 she set up the AnnieZ Foundation
- "Nobody can imagine what it's like to be in my shoes"
The faces of football's unsung heroes do not adorn posters on the walls of millions of bedrooms around the world, nor do they make it onto the covers of video games. Yet thanks to football, people like Annie Zaidi are able to make their dreams come true, overcome obstacles and make the world a better place.
"Football is such a beautiful sport and it can be used as a tool to help break down social barriers and create community cohesion," she told FIFA.com. "Football not only helped me realise my passion for the game but also the great ability I have as an elite football coach. When I’m coaching, players aren't concerned about what race or religion I am, but how competent a coach I am to help them develop. I never imagined that coaching football would be my career, let alone that I'd be honoured with so many accolades and opportunities."
Zaidi is the first South Asian and first Muslim woman to receive the English Football Association's Level 2 coaching badge and the UEFA B License. At the 'Sportswoman of the Year Awards 2015' she won the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration, and also received, among other honours, the Asian Woman of Achievement Award and the British Empire Medal, which is granted in recognition of meritorious civil service.
"I always wanted to be a footballer, that was my dream job," said Zaidi, who is currently the only female coach in Europe who wears a hijab. "I couldn't see myself doing anything else, but sadly due to the lack of opportunities available and the fact I come from a South-Asian background, playing football was seen as a taboo – and not only in the Asian community. Therefore I had to hang up my boots before my playing career kicked off.
"But my attitude has remained the same: 'They can take my boots away, they can take my ball away, but one thing they cannot take away is my passion for the game'. That mindset has led to me pursuing a career as a coach within the professional game and now I'm passing on my knowledge to elite players."
Her path to get there has been an arduous one. After frequently encountering racism and sexism she decided to move to a place where nobody knew her. Zaidi followed her mentor Wallace Hermit, co-founder of the Black Asian Coaches Association (BACA), who saw potential where everyone else doubted her.
"In a society where everyone is labelled, I've got more labels than a jam jar," she said. "But I try to remain focused on my path and not to get distracted by other people’s barriers. Everyone thought I was just going through a phase when I said I wanted to be a coach. My next challenge was to get the UEFA B License. It was a life-changing moment and a struggle. When you work towards achieving your dream, it can be a lonely place. I'm the only the person that looks like me doing this, so nobody else can imagine what it feels like to be in my shoes."
Zaidi forged her own path and counts establishing the Coach AnnieZ Foundation among her accomplishments. Against all the odds, she has overcome every obstacle she has encountered and now has a message for any young girls looking to follow in her footsteps:
"Don’t allow other people's barriers to become your own barriers. People only say you shouldn’t do something because they don’t have the strength or ability to make their dreams come true. You're a strong, intelligent, beautiful young woman with so much potential. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but I know you have the strength and determination to keep going until you've made your dreams come true and remember to always be proud of yourself."
The Coach AnnieZ Foundation
Annie Zaidi set up the foundation in 2015. "Its three main goals are to inspire, empower and encourage more young women to realise their potential, whether it’s to become a scientist, footballer, pilot or entrepreneur. The foundation's aim is to encourage them to follow their dreams because with hard work, self-belief and dedication their dreams can true - like mine did."