Published: 11:32, 09 July 2021
| Updated: 11:34, 09 July 2021
Football brought a wide range of cultures together in the first festival of its kind.
Gravesham based Punjab United - working with the Kent Football Association, Kick it Out and the BAME Football Forum - arranged the first Non-League Diversity Football Festival.
The other teams taking part in games at the Steve Cook Stadium, Dunkirk Close, Gravesend, were Sporting Bengal from London, Leicester Nirvana and Sporting Khalsa from the West Midlands. The eventual winners were Sporting Khalsa who play in the eighth tier of English football.
The four teams are some of the highest ranking BAME-led teams in the country and all have strong links to the South Asian community which has traditionally struggled to gain a foothold in the higher echelons of the game, on the playing or coaching side.
Also there to show support were Kent County Council chairman Ann Allen, Deputy Lord Lieutenant Kelvin Holford, Gravesham Deputy Mayor Cllr Peter Scollard, North Kent Inter Faith Network chairman Bishop Greg Kitsell, former Gravesham Mayor Tanmanjeet Dhesi, who is now MP for Slough, President of the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara Manpreet Dhaliwal, Gravesend and Dartford Muslim Association chairman Ejaz Aslam and Secretary of the Shah Jalal Mosque Shamim Miah.
Entertainment was provided by the 4x4 Kings of Dhol drummers who led all the teams onto the pitch for the opening ceremony.
Punjab United chairman and manager Chipie Sian said: “I am really proud of what we achieved and am grateful to the other clubs to come from across the country to support us with this event. It is important that we use our platform to showcase the positive work being done around diversity and inclusion in non-league football and to also highlight some of the challenges that still exist.
"I am keen to build upon this for next year and get more teams involved.”
Cohesion Plus, which organises culturally diverse festivals around Kent, was the artistic and community partner for the event.
Artistic director Gurvinder Sandher said: “Football is a great way to bring people together. We are seeing that with the current success of the England team and how the nation has got behind them. Football clubs like Punjab United are at the heart of our local communities and play a positive role in promoting not just football but also community cohesion.”
The festival, on Saturday, came after events in Gravesend to mark Windrush Day. It saw a recreation of the arrival of MV Empire Windrush onboard the LV21 lightship moored St Andrew's Quay, West Street. MV Empire Windrush arrived on the River Thames opposite Gravesend, at the Port of Tilbury, on June 22, 1948.
Michelle Bramble, chairman of the North Kent Caribbean Network, said: “I was incredibly proud to be part of these community celebrations. Sadly, over time we seem to have forgotten that the Windrush generation were actually invited to the UK to help rebuild the ‘motherland’ so it’s imperative that we remember the countless sacrifices and hardships they have had to endure over many years and celebrate their positive contributions.
"If you look at North Kent for example, the Windrush generation and their descendants have contributed to all facets of everyday life from health, education, business, art, sport and culture. This year was particularly poignant as a number of our members have passed away over this last year.”