Born to Afghani-Pakistani parents, raised in Highfields, Riaz Khan has the notorious honour of being one of England’s first Asian football hooligans. A member of Leicester City’s infamous firm, The Baby Squad, Khan’s journey has taken him from the terraces of the old Filbert Street football ground, to prisons in Exeter and Bristol, to schools and youth clubs, where he now educates the young about the dangers of gang violence. In 2010, Riaz decided to put pen to paper and tell his story, this is has been recently dramatized and Great Central had the privilege of being invited along for press night.
Nestled in The Curve’s studio theatre, Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual
presents the audience with much more than one man’s individual journey. The darkness infused comedy gives an insight into an era that is sometimes forgotten and a sub-culture that is rarely understood. The story begins with Riaz’s father’s journey from rural Pakistan to the heart of the English midlands. What follows is a rollercoster ride through the life of the author. Frantic, relentless, heart warming and disturbing, the play paints a comic book portrait of an angry and confused young man, ready to take on all comers but afraid to tackle his own demons. This personal tale is cleverly intertwined with both social and political commentary, and much more apparent, the racial tensions of post war Britain.
Despite a short cameo by Riaz himself, the play is entirely carried by two actors, Jay Varsani and Hareet Deol, and these two young men must be applauded as the do an outstanding job, captivating the audience from start to finish. Constantly running, dancing, jumping, fighting, playing football, the actors leave the audience breathless as they turn every inch of the studio theatre into their stage. Set and costume designer Grace Smart should also be given her dues as the nostalgia she evokes with simple props and well thought out set design certainly brings you back to 1980s Leicester. The play is not without its flaws, the frantic pace and constant character changes by the actors, while certainly part of its charm, means that if you lose concentration for a second, it is easy to left behind. A few musical numbers that attempt to combine hip-hop and football chants left the theatre goers looking a bit befuddled, and a probably something that the play would not miss. Nevertheless, this is bold and engaging piece of work, highly enjoyable and thought provoking. The half time oranges were a nice touch too.
Memoirs of an Asian Football casual was adapted by Dougal Irvine from the book written by Riaz Khan, directed by Nikolai Foster, and stars Jay Varsani and Hareet Deol.