Vimal Yoganathan made history by becoming the first Tamil professional footballer in England and he hopes to inspire people from his background.

The 18-year-old made his Barnsley FC debut in 2023, with there hardly ever been any British Asians in professional football. But Yoganathan hopes to help change that.

He said: “It’s really exciting for me to be the first Tamil and it’s good to be able to do that at Barnsley.

“It shows the diversity of the club all the way through. I hope there is more I can do for the community.

“I want to be an example for South Asians and I am hoping I have done that. There isn’t a difference because of your ethnicity – if you are white, Black or South Asian brown, you can be a footballer.”

Yoganathan is also proud to be Welsh, having been brought up first in Trelawnyd, Flintshire then near Wrexham. Earlier in 2024, he made his debut for Wales under-19s.

He continued: “Playing for your country is something any footballer wants to do. I feel like I did well on my first cap. Hopefully, I can stay in the squad for the next games.”

Vimal Yoganathan made his debut for Barnsley in a League Cup match against Tranmere Rovers. He then played three times in the EFL Trophy and once in the FA Cup.

He was on the bench for the league game at Shrewsbury Town in February but is yet to make his league debut. Yoganathan said: “It’s been a good season from a personal point of view.

“There have been a few milestones. I played in my first ever professional game then continued it on throughout the season with a couple more appearances.

“I played in all the cup competitions which was good. I signed my first professional contract.

“Towards the end of the season, a lot of players were coming back, and I struggled to get into the team. But I continued my form in the 18s and 21s.”

More youth team players are expected to train under new Barnsley head coach Darrell Clarke from pre-season. “Towards the start of next season, I want to show I am good enough to be in and around it,” Yoganathan said.

“If the opportunity comes to start a couple of games, I will be ready.” One of his highlights was his performance in the FA Cup replay win at non-league Horsham.

While Barnsley were removed from the cup for fielding an ineligible player that day, Yoganathan attracted attention with some impressive skills. He was in the Liverpool academy from the age of nine to 15 then had a short stint at Burnley before a successful trial with Barnsley in 2022.

He confessed: “Being released by Liverpool was quite a tough thing to go through after seven years.

“Looking back, it’s just part of football. It built resilience and improved my character. It’s almost a blessing in disguise.

“Would I have got the opportunities I am getting at Barnsley at Liverpool? Probably not.

“Liverpool and Barnsley have some similarities and some differences. The style of play, with the high press, is quite similar and that is the same all down the age groups.

“The core values of working hard and staying resilient and being brave, are the same. Barnsley is a lot more humble and more of a family.

“It was quite nice to be welcomed into that. From the scholars to the first team, we’re all under one roof.

“There is obviously a pathway at the club, which has been established for a while. Fabio (Jalo) and Chaps (Theo Chapman) have played for the first team in league games.

“A couple of others my age made debuts – Emmaisa (Nzondo) and Jono (Bland). It’s good that there is a pathway and we are encouraged.”

In addition to football, Yoganathan attends regular meetings with the Professional Footballers’ Association’s ‘Asian Inclusion and Mentoring Scheme’. Riz Rehman, who helps run the programme, said: “There are a lot of young South Asian players, like Vimal, who have come through academies and are on the fringe of the first team at clubs across the country.

“If they start to make breakthroughs we will start seeing a lot more coming through underneath them. We know how tough the journey can be for any player.

“Vimal has access to senior pros who have been through everything he is going to go through. He can reach out to them.

“We set up a meeting with Neil Taylor (former Wales international who is also South Asian). Then we have young players aged 12 to 16 and Vimal can use his experiences to help them. It’s a network which connects players.

“We do online meetings, Zoom calls, face to face meetings at St George’s Park and in London. We’re also inspiring them to do other things.

“Football is a great career if they play to 35 but we offer other education pathways as well.”