Mal Benning wants to inspire the next generation of Indian Sikh players as he goes for promotion with Port Vale.
The left-back believes Saturday’s Sky Bet League Two play-off final with Mansfield at Wembley is the perfect platform to provide hope.
Benning is from Indian Sikh parents and started his career at Walsall before spending six years at Mansfield, joining Vale from the Stags last year.
Now, as he prepares to play at Wembley for the first time, Benning knows the magnitude of his achievement for his culture.
He said: “To be involved is special, especially being from an Indian background, it’s special for me and my origin. I take a lot of pride in that.
“When I first started out in football, you see a lot of lads start for two years and drop out. I’ve continued for 10 years and I hope to act as a role model for young Asian lads coming through.
“There are more and more now. Playing at Wembley is special and it would be my first time but the main thing for me is representing the Indian Sikh culture at Wembley. I’m playing on the biggest stage of them all and it shows others it is possible.
“Being on TV at Wembley you might have some who don’t even know me, from an Indian or Asian background, thinking ‘he’s one of us and he’s playing at Wembley’.
“Having that exposure will give hope to those coming through. There might be parents out there thinking they don’t want them to go into football because of this, that or the other, but playing on the biggest stage brings light to it that it is possible.”
Sunderland defender Danny Batth has an Indian father, as does former Newcastle and Cardiff striker Michael Chopra, but there are few Asian players in the professional game.
Benning, though, feels the cultural barrier is no longer there and hopes to see the next generation of players come through.
“If you asked me 10 years ago I’d probably say yes, it was there, but as the years have gone by and how the world has adapted I don’t think we can use it as an excuse any more,” said the 28-year-old. “But I do think we need to be that little bit better than everyone else just to gain recognition.
“The cultural thing has gone now, there are a lot of parents who are pushing their kids and there are more coming through. I hope we can see more in the future.
“Over the 10 years it has grown but not to the numbers where we’re saying ‘yes, there’s a pathway’. Hopefully the more recognition and people making it, more can come through to the professional game.”
Vale finished fifth in League Two, a point ahead of Mansfield, having beaten Swindon in their play-off semi final.
Darrell Clarke’s side have not played in the third tier since 2017 having, before this season, never finished higher than eighth since dropping into League Two.
“There’s a difference between being confident or arrogant about it. Our confidence comes from the gaffer,” said Benning.
“It’s a massive occasion with a massive crowd but we have to block that out on Saturday. We’ll enjoy the build up but then get our game heads on.
“The club has got a lot of ambition, a lot of ways to go forward. Everyone is aiming for promotion, we have given it a right go and need to make sure on Saturday we have no regrets.”