From car showroom to Wembley

Hereford’s Afghan star Maziar Kouhyar thought he was finished. He was wrong...

- Chris Evans

Two curtailed seasons have left many non- league players praying for a first uninterrup­ted campaign in what feels like an age – but new Hereford signing Maziar Kouhyar will be even happier than most.

After joining the Bulls for good this summer, the 23- year- old is looking to complete his first campaign since 2017- 18, after two serious injuries that laid him up until March 2020 – when the UK went into lockdown.

The former Walsall midfielder was left with little choice but to take jobs outside football, working initially at KFC before becoming a car salesman.

“There were no clubs available to go to, and I needed a job because I was just sitting at home doing rehabilita­tion on my own,” Kouhyar tells FFT. “When I was doing the car sales, I didn’t even have an inkling that I was going to go back any time soon. I thought football was dead for me – I never thought for a million years that I’d be playing again.”

But after eight months working the showroom, Kouhyar’s life was turned upside- down again. In March, he earned a short- term move to National League North side Hereford for a role in their FA Trophy run. One whirlwind month later, he was wide- eyed and playing at Wembley.

“It was a crazy transition,” he says. “I was just thinking that I needed to get into football again, and suddenly there I was at Wembley. It was a very lucky situation – one that gives you the taste of where you want to be and drives you on.

“When you’re out for so long with injuries and other things, you really do appreciate everything when you get the chance to come back. Even the running we do or training – I look forward to it all. It’s really enjoyable being around players and I don’t take anything for granted any more.”

It was a rare high point for the seven- cap Afghanista­n internatio­nal, who fled the war- torn nation with his family as a one- year- old but made his debut for them in 2017. Alongside the injury struggles, Kouhyar’s spell at Walsall ended under a cloud after he was called a terrorist by his own team- mate. However, he insists he can already tell the Black Lives Matter movement is having an impact.

“The progressio­n starts within clubs and it has progressed a lot, so that


will subside very soon,” explains Kouhyar. “We want to spread it out to the fans and people watching the game as well. Obviously these people are a minority, but hopefully that will be abolished as well. I think football is moving in the right direction.”

Kouhyar is among a smattering of South Asian players in the English game, and after becoming the first Afghan to play profession­ally in the country following his breakthrou­gh with the Saddlers, he has become something of an unwitting trailblaze­r for others hoping to follow suit.

“There are loads of other young Afghans in England who are making their way up,” he says. “They contact me on social media, we talk and become friends. It’s not one of the things I think of all the time – I’m still a young player trying to make it myself. I haven’t made it yet, but for the young kids seeing older Asian players, they think, ‘ Oh my god, it is possible’. So if I’m in some way a bit of a role model, it’s just an added bonus of playing football.”

And after the time Kouhyar’s had, everything must feel like a bonus.

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