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Gravesend's Punjab United FC are runners-up in Diversity Football Festival

A non-league football team which strives to promote equality in sport were runners-up in the annual Diversity Football Festival.

Gravesend’s Punjab United FC took 16 of its players to compete in the tournament which took place at the University of Leicester on the Stoughton Drive playing fields.

The team came runners-up in the tournament
The team came runners-up in the tournament

This was the sporting event's second year with the first held at The Steve Cook Stadium in Dunkirk Close, Gravesend, which is Punjab United FC's home ground.

Sporting Bengal United FC from London, Sporting Khalsa Football Club from Birmingham and Leicester Nirvana from Leicester also took part.

It was hosted by the BAME Football Forum (BFF) – a partnership of grassroots clubs and community members who promote and encourage the progression of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) football.

Punjab United came runners-up at the Diversity Football Festival
Punjab United came runners-up at the Diversity Football Festival

One of the most memorable games of the day for Punjab United was their 5-1 win against Leicester Nirvana.

Not only did the players show great performance and team work to steal the victory, but it was also a good chance for some of the younger players to get involved too, said management committee member and head of youth development Raj Dhesi.

He added: “We had a good lead in the game, so we brought on four to five of our youngsters to give them 20 minutes each to gain some experience.”

And one of them scored a goal towards the end of the match.

BFF used the festival to promote BAME coaches, players, and managers in a safe environment. It also wanted to highlight the talent of BAME clubs in non and semi-professional leagues.

Chipie Sian (on the left) is the chairman and manager of Punjab Utd FC
Chipie Sian (on the left) is the chairman and manager of Punjab Utd FC

Dal Darroch, The FA’s head of diversity and inclusion strategic programmes, said: “The FA is committed to ensuring our games are truly inclusive at all levels and we were proud to be a part of the day.”

In attendance were football governing bodies, semi-professionals, ex-professionals, and communities.

Some of the younger players in the crowd
Some of the younger players in the crowd

A survey due for release by the forum found that of those who said racial discrimination in local football in their area was getting worse, 23% felt unsafe.

BFF chairman Ivan Liburd said: “We are already in talks with various football bodies to support next year’s event on a larger scale so that we can accommodate even more clubs, which is what the festival deserves.”

In recent months, Punjab United FC have taken part in other sporting events to promote equality.

Three of their teams took part in the Premiere Leagues South Asian Emerging Talent festival aiming to recognise under-represented talent in the academy system.

On May 28, players from the age of eight to 10 took part in the Emerging Strong, Young, South Asian Gunners event. Arsenal Academy and the Professional Footballers' Association provided support to encourage South Asian players to follow their football dreams.

A video showcasing the first ever female football festival held at Punjab Utd FC's ground

Also, at the end of May, Punjab United FC held their first ever under-12 girls' football event at their home ground. Next year they hope to invite more teams from Kent and south east London to make the tournament even bigger.

Raj said: "As a club we are just doing what we can to help promote and raise awareness for girls football which could result in more girls wanting to participate."

The club has also been nominated for a Kent FA grassroots award for Project of the Year to celebrate the team and staff that make sacrifices to bring the community together through football.

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