Everyday Heroes: Annie Zaidi

Annie ZaidiIf you haven’t heard of Annie Zaidi yet, then trust us when we say it is only a matter of time. Having already won the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration at the 2015 Sportswomen of the Year Awards, become the first Muslim woman to get her Level 2 coaching badge within her region from The Football Association (FA) and been named as one of The Independent’s 50 most influential women in sport, Annie is already making huge waves. Did we mention that she was also invited to be a panellist at the 2016 FIFA Women’s Conference held in Zurich? Ironic really as she says that she doesn’t really feel like she has done anything yet.

Growing up with three brothers, Annie always thought of herself as one of the boys. From the age of five, she began playing football in the back garden and says, ‘The moment a football touched my sole, something magical happened, it’s like I came to life. I did catch the football bug.’ Growing up, she lacked the opportunities to play, and given her South Asian background, any involvement meant that she received a lot of negativity from her own community. As a result of this, Annie stopped playing at the age of 14 but eventually found her way back to the sport that stole her heart seven years later.

‘I thought, "You can take my ball away, you can take my boots away, but one thing they can’t take away is my passion. If I can’t play, I am going to coach."’

Early on in her coaching career, Annie was the only female manager of 400 in a Sunday league team in the West Midlands. As amazing as this sounds, parts of the experience were definitely not, as she endured sexist, racist and Islamophobic remarks from the pitch and sidelines.

‘It wasn’t like we were in the 1950s. It was 2008/09, and you would assume people’s mentalities would have changed, but sadly, it didn’t.’

‘I love a challenge, I love when people say you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it. Watch me, and I will prove you wrong and then watch you eat humble pie. That’s the determination in me.’ Such determination that led her to what she describes as her coaching highlight so far – gaining experience coaching the under-18 and 21 men’s team at Queens Park Rangers and being the Head Coach of Leicester City under-11s. ‘These people have seen the potential in me, not because I am a woman or black and minority ethnic (BME) but because I am a good coach.’

Annie’s ambition is to be a full-time elite technical coach within a professional club, and she does not see why she should just coach women because she is one. Annie’s opinion is that, due to lack of provisions in the women’s game, she will have more opportunities to work full-time in the men’s game. ‘I like the challenge and don’t want to be pigeonholed. I think if I go exclusively into the women’s game, I will struggle then to get into the men’s game. I’d rather go to the end of the spectrum before I go back to my comfort zone because I will be developing myself then.’

Currently studying for her UEFA B coaching badge for the second time, Annie feels that, despite feeling life was a failure initially, she is becoming a better coach by the day and working harder than she ever thought she could to achieve this goal. Her advice to other people who may face challenges along their coaching journey is, ‘Don’t allow other people’s barriers to become your own barriers. Personal confidence is important, it’s not about being arrogant but being confident in your own ability.’ We can definitely see why Annie has been enlisted as an ambassador for Women in Football and Sporting Equals!

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