Fans for diversity: inclusion through a community of football supporters

Bradford, United Kingdom 1st September 2022
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Fans for diversity: inclusion through a community of football supporters

A Bradford City Football supporters group, the Bangla Bantams, is leading the way in the United Kingdom in increasing diversity and inclusion of all football fans, strengthening ties and creating positive change in the community.

The BEAP Community Centre (a community partnership) and Bradford City Football Club grounds (Valley Parade) sit next door to each other, in the heart of Manningham (a Council ward of Bradford). Both facilities are positioned in a built up area with traditional back-to-back terraced properties, and home to Bengali families. In the old days families used to watch the match from their attic window, before they built-up the stadium.

Humayun Islam, Chief Executive for BEAP Community Centre, is the founder of Bangla Bantams, a group of local Bangladeshi women who were given the opportunity to become football supporters at Bradford City. Through forming partnerships with the club, and support from Anwar Uddin (the first British Bangladeshi to play in the football league) local women were the first to lead the way and attend a football match. The ladies started to attract attention with their flags, food and photos with other supporters, which started to go viral on social media. People started to talk about Bangla Bantams and the ladies became regulars at the game.

During their first match one of the ladies was very anxious and concerned about what people would think and how they were going to react but quickly reassured they were soon chanting football songs with the rest of the supporters. The ladies had samosa and pakoras during half time which attracted the attention of other supporters and fostered a natural conversation with other fans, through the sharing of food. This helped to breakdown some of those barriers and alleviate some of the negative fears that football can portray, giving the ladies an opportunity to experience a match, and a feeling a sense of belonging to their local club, located right in the heart of their community.

Towards the end of the game Bradford City needed to score so one of the ladies said a prayer ‘I love Bradford City so much, I know it rains so much, wind and never enough car parking, all these things are your blessings’ and they scored. The Bangla Bantams Supporters Group was born.

Bangla Bantams are now leading the way as the first South Asian supporters group and through Humayun’s connections are helping other premier football clubs and local fans find different ways to connect and enjoy match experiences. Other clubs include Manchester City Bengal Blues, and Liverpool Deshi Reds, as well as helping other clubs, such as Oldham Athletics and Scunthorpe United.

The group also won the Football Supporters Association (FSA) Fans for Diversity Award 2017, British Muslim Awards 2020 for the ‘social inclusion group of the year’. The group also have their very own BBC radio drama played by actors; Nina Wadia and Sudha Bhuchar which shows how a Bradford women’s community group became part of the supporters group for Bradford City Football.

BEAP, in partnership with Bradford Council, secured £1.3 million from Football Foundation, Sport England, West County FA for a new Sports Complex. The facilities include three 4G football pitches for five and seven-a-side matches, new changing rooms and more giving local people the opportunity to experience football in a positive, safe and fun way.

This is also creating a pathway to Bradford City Football Club for locally talented footballers to attend trials, and potentially play professional football. Kids who don’t make the trials will be given other opportunities to develop their sporting ambitions, such as coaching, referee, umpire and other sports opportunities through accredited courses.

The complex will also become a Fan Zone (#[email protected]) on match days as the new complex sits next door to Bradford City Football Club. Bantam fans and their away counterparts can meet at the complex over a coffee, game of pool or have a friendly game of football. BEAP and Bradford City Community Foundation (Bradford City’s Charity) also team up to use the facilities for community activities, throughout the week as well as on Bantam match days.

Humayun and the Board, staff and volunteers have worked hard for the last 21 years to meet the needs of the local community by creating opportunities, realising potential, and achieving excellence, which are BEAP’s main objectives. Through the delivery of services and projects, the centre is helping to revitalise Bradford’s working class communities through investment of time and money, recognising the strengths of cultural identity and the uniqueness, and additionality this brings to the community and the Bantams. Helping communities to find common ground, by supporting local people form and action their own agendas for positive change.

The future is bright and exciting for local communities in Manningham and the wider District of Bradford. The new facility provides the resource for BEAP’s marketing strategy and plans going forward, by using sport and education. Bangla Bantams, the forming of new partnerships, such as the University of Bradford City, links to Lancashire Cricket, Bradford Bulls, British Army and more will help to build trust, provide inclusion, opportunities, and empower communities to do the same.

Written by Humayun Islam, Chief Executive for BEAP Community Centre, Bradford, United Kingdom

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