Chris Dolby is the first Asian professional footballer that the Football League has had the pleasure to witness while playing for Rotherham United and Bradford City. He now has oversight of the footballs first official club, Sheffield FC’s Community Foundation as their Director. Throughout this weeks interview, Chris discusses how his passion for the beautiful game began, his ambitions to grow Asian prominence in sport and the challenges he’s experienced throughout his professional career, on and off the pitch.
Q1) Chris, thanks for joining me at Ash’s Sports Talk. Can you kick this off by sharing how your passion for sport began?
My passion for football began while I was at school. My mum had to take me to the local youth centre where some teenage boys had a football club. I was so much younger than them, and being the only Asian boy living in my village; the older boys were reluctant to let me play. Once I started to play, they soon realised I had a real talent for football so not only was I now accepted but I also made friends for life.
Q2) I can imagine being the Football League’s first Asian player must’ve been overwhelming, particularly in the same era as Ryan Giggs, Keith Gillespie and David Beckham. Could you share how this experience inspired you to want to make a difference for the Asian sports community at the time of getting your pro contract at Rotherham United?
Being the first British Asian to play in the football league was a real honour to me.
Although I was adopted at the age of 2 months old, being brought up in a white British community, I still wanted to demonstrate to people that Asian children can play football. I did play against all the top players when we were coming through the ranks like Giggs, Beckham, Neville and Fowler, which is always something I remember well.
Q3) Seeing the growth that Asian participation in sport has made on the elite and the grassroots level is fantastic. However, what more do you feel needs to be done to unlock further opportunities for other upcoming young players who may be in similar positions like you once were?
Better opportunities within specific communities are essential to help young children develop. Culturally I believe football and sport are now seen as a career opportunity. Integration is also vital for young Asian footballers to develop as players. I would always tell a young talented player to go and play at the highest possible level even if this means leaving your friends within your community.
Q4) You now work as the Director of Sheffield United’s Community Foundation and you have been for seven years. If there’s such thing, what does your role consist of each day? And, at what point did you recognise this is where your sports career purpose lies?
When I finished playing professional football, I started to take my coaching badges.
I then went back into the world of professional football and did many different roles from academy coach, Club community officer, and brand/marketing director.
This has now given me excellent knowledge and understanding of how a football club should operate. My role as Foundation Director is to build the brand of the Worlds First Football club, on a local, national, and international platform. I now have networks all over the world from India, China, Qatar, and America.
Q5) I understand you also had a stint as Sheffield FC’s manager for two and a half years. What did you learn about the difference between managing a club and leading their charitable arm?
It’s completely different from any other job within a football club. The manager’s job is all about winning games of football. You are judged on results, so the pressure is always on the manager. In my opinion, managers do not get the time they need and deserve.
Q6) There are many positives throughout your footballing career. However, I’m interested to hear about the challenges you faced as a player and as a director. More importantly, how did some of these adversities positively transform your character?
I learnt from a young age that people would use the colour of my skin to try and affect me as a person and as a footballer. This was very challenging for me to learn how to cope with the abuse, but over time I developed the ability to ignore the abuse and more importantly use it to drive me on to better things.
Q7) Chris, from your life and career experiences, what advice can you pass onto the next generation of sports enthusiasts to pursue a career in sport?
I would encourage everyone to remember why they started to play sport. Never forget the love and passion for the game. As you develop as a sportsman/woman, the challenges become more significant, and you can lose the fact of why you started to play the game. Always try and enjoy the game even when faced with tough times. Believe in your ability even when you have seeds of doubt. Never stop working hard and giving 100%.
Wow, what a terrific interview from Chris. His work ethic, passion and talent in the game is unquestionable and second to none. The most vital learning I’ve taken away from Chris’ sports career has to be how he’s used his ethnicity to inspire others who may be in similar positions instead of shying away from it. Therefore, the bigger picture to apply in your work whether you’re a player, coach, or a professional is always to remember; life is what you make of it.