By Hugo Varley
Scanning through the tables on a Sunday morning, the name Sporting Bengal United is always one that catches the eye.
The East London club, currently sitting proudly near the top of the Essex Senior League, have been on a unique journey, which has seen the inclusive nature of Non-League football blend with the club’s ethos of aiming to overcome the under representation of young Asian players within British football.
Founded in 1996, the club began life in local Asian Leagues before moving into the London Intermediate League on the back of a hugely successful three years.
Following a tour of Bangladesh, where they only narrowly lost in a match against the country’s national team, Sporting Bengal were granted senior status by the London Football Association in 2003.
Sporting’s current manager, Imrul Gazi, who took over from former Dagenham & Redbridge captain Anwar Uddin in 2016, told The NLP: “We have a really interesting past, which not a lot of people know about.
“The club is essentially run by a larger organisation called the Bangladeshi Football Association, who also operate an increasingly popular summer league.
“The summer league runs within the Tower Hamlets area and now has about 40 teams playing in it.
“The best players from the league are then given the opportunity to play for Sporting Bengal United. Due to this, the team is able to represent the multi-cultural nature of East London.
“We have Bangladeshi players but we also have players from many other different nationalities.”
Gazi believes that in many instances, the community nature of Sporting Bengal United has helped parts of the ethnically diverse population around Tower Hamlets to develop a true sense of belonging.
The coach continued: “I moved to London from Bradford in 2009 and quite quickly got involved with the football team.
“I love this club and I owe it a lot. I couldn’t really imagine my life without it because it is so important to a lot of what I do.
“We try to make sure that the club really represents the community and we have a lot of brilliant volunteers, which ensures that there is always a fantastic welcoming atmosphere around the place.”
In recent years, the club have made encouraging strides both on and off the pitch.
An academy side was formed in 2011; while a succession of impressive recent league campaigns has helped to push the first-team from perennial Essex League underdogs to potential dark horses for promotion.
After a joint highest ever finish of 10th place last season, Gazi’s side have come storming out of the blocks in the Essex Senior League this year.
Before this weekend’s top-of-the-table clash against Hullbridge Sports, they had lost just two of their opening 15 league games, moving towards the top of the Essex Senior League goalscoring charts in the process.
“There seems to be a bit of a footballing revolution happening at the club at the moment,”?Gazi added.
“We are seeing more and more new faces on the terraces and this season we have upwards of 100 people, which is brilliant to see. We have even had a lot of groundhoppers coming down to watch because everyone seems to be curious about what the club is all about.
“I have tried to make the playing side of things more professional and looked to build on the great work that Anwar did during his season in charge.
“I am really ambitious and we are determined to make it into Step 4 one day.
“We have gone 12 games unbeaten at the moment and have scored 44 times this season so everything seems to be moving in a very promising direction.
“Away from the first team, the academy is continuing to evolve and we have made a real effort to improve our social media so more and more people can find out about the unique nature of our club.
“We are determined to raise the profile of the club and establish ourselves as a recognised Non-League side.”
Further exciting news could well be on the horizon for Sporting Bengal after former Welling United and now current Bangladesh national team manager Jamie Day recently cast his eye over the talent in Gazi’s squad.
The proud Sporting boss continued: “I spoke to Jamie recently and he told me that he was impressed by a lot of what he saw.
“He wants to get a few of the players involved in the national team set up, which is an incredibly exciting prospect and would be an absolutely brilliant milestone for the lads and everyone else connected to the club.
“These are really great times for Sporting Bengal United and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!