Asian football team sets new diversity goals


By Nadeem Badshah

THE manager of a football team that starred in a BBC documentary has credited their success to a hat-trick of factors unity, the diversity of players and his understanding wife.

Chipie Sian founded Punjab United, which have gone from a Sunday League outfit to playing in a semi-professional league after back-to back promotions.

The club, which includes a plumber, electrician, builder, teacher and IT worker, was the subject of a BBC One documentary earlier this year called Our Lives.

Sian, a former amateur player, doubles up as coach and chairman of the team, which comprises players from different faiths and cultures.

And Punjab United could make more history when they play a qualifier in the FA Cup against Broadbridge Heath on Saturday (10). The BBC will broadcast the game live on its website and on iPlayer.

The businessman told Eastern Eye: “We are Sikhs, but we have always been a multicultural club from day one. (We have) always had a mixed team.

“If you integrate well and mix well, you are part of this community. We have kept the majority non-Asians, they know what we want and want to achieve. We have recruited really well.

“The whole mix gelled. When you have the friendship off the field and banter, you can’t beat that. That unity between everyone – if we were individuals we wouldn’t have that bond. That’s how we got our promotions.”

He added: “I have got a good wife who has given me the freedom to do football on the side because she knows I enjoy it.”

The team was formed by volunteers in 2003 in Gravesend, Kent, and started as a Sunday morning team.

They have their own ground- although everyone still has to clean the dressing rooms and toilets after matches.

The manager said following the success of the BBC show, they are keen on doing more television documentaries.

“Everyone has enjoyed it. A lot of people come back and said, ‘why is it only a one-off, can it be longer?’ People really took to it. It is a real-life situation on what we are doing, what it’s like to be a semi-pro club.

“You never say no to publicity, but it has been hard work. You have to concentrate on football.

“The BBC were a great bunch of people. After a while, we didn’t notice they were there (filming).

“When we took it on, I didn’t think we would be on BBC One prime time before EastEnders. It is a dream, you pinch yourself.”

The documentary featured, among other things, the club’s dressing-room arguments as they survived in the Southern Counties East Football League.

Sian, who runs a construction firm with his father and brother, said he was not afraid to hold back with his dressing-room rants when the cameras were on.

The father-of-two said: “Sometimes you let go at your players, then you think, ‘oh damn, BBC One is here’.

“We are the same people on and off (the field). We will be serious for football but have good banter through it and at the end.

“Filming the changing room, everyone having a go at each other, it was funny.

“When you look back at it, you think ‘oh wow, how tense it was’, but half an hour later everyone is back to normal.”

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