Sunday 16 June 2013
West Ham United's Boleyn Ground was the scene for some of the top Asian footballers in Britain to showcase their talent last week. The 11th annual Asian Community Cup is organised by London Tigers and aims to provide Asian players with the opportunity to play in professional stadiums and be spotted by scouts and the level of football on offer in the final was worthy of the venue as Punjab United Wolves claimed the title with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Bury Park Saracens on Wednesday night.
"It's the best feeling ever – I'm really glad It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at West Ham"
Wolves were twice pegged back after taking the lead, but Razwan Akhtar came off the bench to score the winner for his side before a sizeable crowd at the Boleyn Ground.
The victory marked the end of a successful journey for the team from Wolverhampton, who came through a series of preliminary rounds at West Ham's Rush Green training complex last month to secure their place in the final against their Luton-based opponents.
For matchwinner Akhtar, playing at a Barclays Premier League ground was an unforgettable experience.
"It's the best feeling ever and I'm really glad,” Akhtar told whufc.com. “We did well throughout the rounds and we deserved to come through to the final and win. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at West Ham, and it's a great achievement by us.
"Before I got subbed on, I was saying my prayers, saying, 'Let me get the winner.' If I got three or four chances I'd have been more than happy and there you have it, we've taken the trophy."
London Tigers is an award-winning organisation which works across London and beyond to provide sporting and life opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
"The Asian Community Cup is a national event involving teams from Glasgow to Preston, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and London," Mesba Ahmed, the London Tigers chief executive, said. "The prelim of 16 teams whittled it down to the two teams who competed in the final and it was a dream come true for them to play at West Ham.
"It's great when Premier League clubs throw their doors open and give people that opportunity to play at the stadium"
"Playing the final in a pro stadium is more important than anything else, because it allows them to feel like superstars. Having it in the heart of the Asian community in East London was a crowd-puller. For some of the people here, it would have been their first time in a stadium like this. For West Ham to provide an opportunity like that, brings the community closer."
Bobby Barnes, the deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association and a former West Ham United winger, hailed the event as a "very important part of the club's work in the community". He said: "There is a very large Asian community in the area around the ground and it's positive to see the club engaging and putting something into creating some strong links with that community.
"It's great when Premier League clubs throw their doors open and give people that opportunity to play at the stadium. It's something they will remember for a very long time."