It was during Sporting Bengal United’s Peter Butcher Trophy semi-final away to Aveley Reserves last April when Imrul Gazi took the decision that no manager wants to be faced with.
In his nine years at the east London club, the past four as manager, he had experienced his fair share of racism but the decision to take his players off the pitch was a new low. “Some were close to tears,” he said.
Ten months on the emotions are still raw for Gazi, but what followed next offered a damning picture of what happens when a team takes a stand against racial abuse.
“It was a horrible experience that brought real heartache and, although we were the victim, it felt like we were on trial,” Gazi said. “It’s an experience I never want to go through again.”
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They had “felt victimised” by an assistant referee, Edward Andrews, who had allegedly repeatedly referred to them in derogatory terms as he ran the line near their dugout.
Being the manager of a club whose raison d’etre is to give players from a South Asian background opportunities to play at a decent level, Gazi had become depressingly used to racist incidents and his players questioning the point in playing.
But not in the middle of a semi-final and certainly not from one of the men whose job was to bring order to proceedings.
Andrews, allegedly on more than one occasion, had referred to the Sporting Bengal players and coaching staff as “your sort”, “your lot” or “your kind” “always making a lot of noise”. According to Gazi a couple of his players were also allegedly told that “there was no way you’re winning this game” before kick off, although that was not part of the subsequent FA hearing.
The assistant referee denied making the comments.
Gazi persuaded his seething players to continue for a while despite the “blatant racist abuse they had suffered”…