Most Australian football fans know Rahmat Akbari as an attacking midfielder for A-League club Brisbane Roar.
But to the members at Bethania Rams, a grassroots club on Brisbane’s southside, Akbari is just part of their community; a volunteer coach who juggles dual responsibilities with the Senior Men’s and U15 boys teams.
“Rahmat is very approachable. If you didn’t know his reputation, you’d think he was just another young guy down there coaching,” said Bethania Rams president Adrian Pearce.
Akbari’s connection with Bethania Rams was forged through the local Hazara Afghan community to which he belongs.
The Hazara are a persecuted ethnic minority in Afghanistan. Over the past two decades, many Hazaras – including Akbari’s family – have settled in Brisbane.
Thanks to the Rams’ geographic location and inclusive culture, Pearce says Hazara Afghans now make up roughly 10 per cent of the club from juniors through to seniors.
Akbari, 21, lives in Logan, one suburb over from Bethania Rams’ home ground Opperman Park.
“A couple of my mates who I’ve known all my life were playing for Bethania last season, and they asked me to come and coach them,” he explained.
This season, Akbari has been Head Coach of the Rams’ Capital League 3 side – effectively Brisbane’s seventh tier.
His brother, Bes, who plays for Brisbane Strikers in the NPL Queensland, is team manager. Another brother, Matteen, plays in the U12s.
When Akbari learned that the Rams didn’t have enough players to field an U15 side, he rounded up some local Afghan boys to make up the numbers and volunteered to coach the team.
For many years, Akbari has dreamed of building an Afghan football club. Coaching at Bethania Rams, he said, is the next best thing.
“We’ve been trying to get a club going for the Afghan community for a while now,” he said.
“Everyone lives around Logan and in the off-season, we used to come here and play 4v4 or 5v5 social games. We would have friendly matches against other Afghan teams, or African and Asian teams.
“But now we’re in a more professional environment at Bethania Rams. The players are more competitive, they’re more motivated and they want to get promoted.”
Twice a week, Akbari conducts evening training sessions for the Seniors and the U15s. Factoring in the weekend games, he spends around 10 to 15 hours a week with the Rams.
While many professional players are establishing user-pays private academies, Akbari said he has found great satisfaction from volunteering with a community club.
“I want to get my coaching license, so it has helped me as well,” he said.
“I know the capability of the Hazaras here: they’re really good players, but often they don’t get the opportunity to go further.
“That’s why I took the job: Bethania Rams are really affordable – it’s not-for-profit so they don’t charge too much.
“Personally, I just want to help my community and to see the young ones grow. Hopefully they can make the jump to the first team, and we can get some players in the NPL.”
Rams’ president Adrian Pearce said the Akbari brothers have been huge assets to the club.
“He’s just Rahmat; he doesn’t come in with any attitude or thinking he’s better than any other coach,” said Pearce.
“But he gives the kids someone to look up to, and it’s all volunteer work – there’s no payment. He’s just doing it to give the Afghan community somewhere to play.”
These past few weeks have been particularly stressful for Akbari as the Taliban have regained control of Afghanistan.
Akbari, who was born in Jaghori in Central Afghanistan, fled Taliban rule with his family in the early 2000s.
Now, he worries for his grandparents and cousins who are once again living in fear of persecution.
“For me, it’s been really tough because I’ve got family back in Afghanistan. I’m sure it’s the same for all the Afghan boys here at Bethania,” he said.
Between pre-season training with Brisbane Roar and coaching at Bethania Rams, football has provided a welcome distraction.
“I know it’s on everyone’s minds because they’ve got family back home as well. But when we play football, all our problems go away,” he said.
“Football is my life, so when this opportunity at Bethania came along, I had to take it because I wanted to help out the community and give back to them.”
CLICK HERE to find out more about volunteering at your local club.