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” but in the final moments of the game a flashpoint led to him taking his players off the pitch.
Three of his players were “wrongly sent off” following a row and one player admitted to damaging a door in the changing rooms afterwards. The referee, Jamie Wood, claimed that he had abandoned the game for safety reasons after being threatened but that is still vehemently disputed by Sporting Bengal.
The independent FA hearing took place in July but only focused on the 88th-minute altercation.
Andrews was banned for 49 days and made to take an online education course before being allowed to return to officiating.
The independent disciplinary commission declared that he “made a comment that is improper” and “deemed to be aggravated by reference to a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race or nationality” but “for the record, we wish to state that we were not judging whether or not Mr Andrews is a racist.”
The Sporting and Aveley players clash during last year’s…