VIMAL Yoganathan is only 18 but has already made history, and wants to continue to blaze a trail for people from his background as well as for Barnsley FC.

The Welsh teenager, of Sri Lankan descent, was the first Tamil to play a professional football game in England when he made his Reds debut last year.

There are very few British Asians in professional football but Yoganathan is hoping to help change that.

He told the Chronicle: “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 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 in Flintshire then near Wrexham.

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He made his debut for the Wales under 19s team earlier this year.

“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.”

Yoganathan made his professional debut aged 17 in August for Barnsley in the League Cup tie with Tranmere Rovers, coming off the bench.

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.

“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 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 season, a lot of players were coming back, and I struggled get into team.

“But I continued my form in the 18s and 21s.”

More youth team products are expected to train under new Reds head coach Darrell Clarke from pre-season.

Yoganathan said: “Towards the start of next season, I want to show I am good enough to be in and around it.

“If the opportunity comes to start couple of games, I will be ready.”

One of the highlights for Vimal of last season was his performance as a substitute 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 caught the eye, and the TV cameras, with some impressive skills.

“It was a different game to anything I had experienced.

“It was a small stadium but it was packed and the atmosphere was electric.

“I’ve not seen any clips on social media or any comments.

“But all I focus on is what people in the club tell me and I got some good feedback from that game which helped my confidence.”

The other fixture that stands out for Vimal, for the wrong reasons, is his first senior start against Bradford in the EFL Trophy – a 5-1 loss in November.

“Bradford put out an experienced team and we struggled. We were inexperienced.

“Going into proper men’s football is a lot more physical and we are not used to it.

“You are chucked in the deep end and hope you swim.

“I learned a lot. It’s about picking up second balls and winning tackles.

“You don’t get as much time as in the under 18s or 21s.”

Yoganathan was in the Liverpool academy from the age of nine to 15 then had a short stint at Burnley before a successful trial with the Reds in 2022.

“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 have I 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 first team, we’re all under one roof.

“There is obviously a pathway at the club.

“It’s 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.”

Yoganathan has trained alongside Barnsley’s semior midfielders such as Luca Connell, Adam Phillips and Jon Russell.

“It’s really good for my development. I watch them in training.

“They all have a lot of different qualities. I enjoy learning from them and hopefully I can play alongside some of them in the future.”

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.”

Rehman hopes Yoganathan can go a long way in the game. He said: “Vimal the first Tamil professional player so thousands of kids across the country look up to him as someone of the same faith, religion and culture. Hopefully he can have a great career with Barnsley.

“For any young player to get a setback at 15 or 16 at Liverpool then go on trial around the country, you need a bit about you.

“He always travels to our events and it’s good to see him progress.

“It’s very evident he’s at a club which has his best interests at heart.”