I was at a wedding in Ireland while the majority of the FA Cup Preliminary Round, the second stage of the competition, was being played. I was eagerly hitting refresh on my phone, keeping an eye on how my teams were progressing. Secretly, I hoped for a local replay so that I could keep my ‘Road to Wembley’ ambition alive. It looked as though I might fall at the second hurdle. Results were flooding in, few were draws. Finally, an option reared its head. Sporting Bengal United v Brentwood Town.
The replay at the Mile End Stadium looked like it would mean me taking a temporary departure from my regular five non-league clubs. At lunch on Tuesday, however, this all changed as I was once again refreshing my Twitter feed. The winner would go on to face Haringey Borough in the next round. I could keep my cup run going and even do a little bit of scouting. Would ‘Boro’ be following me back to Mile End or heading up the A12 to Brentwood?
Competition: FA Cup Preliminary Round
Ground: Mile End Stadium
Refreshments: £2 (tea and Mars Bar)
Dogs spotted None
Who are ya, Sporting Bengal United?
Sporting Bengal United are one of few Essex Senior League teams that I’m yet to see play. The club was founded in 1996 with the aim of encouraging Asian football in London. The club gained senior status in 2003 and joined the Kent League. They recorded a highest finishing position of fifteenth in the league before joining the Essex Senior in 2011. Last season’s tenth place finish is their best to date.
The club has an interesting story off the field as it’s operated by the Sporting Foundation (formerly Bangladesh Football Association UK). SF is a charitable organisation, set up at the same time as the football team, that aims to transform the lives of young people in the area through sport and community engagement. As well as Sporting Bengal United they also organise youth, summer and community football leagues and tournaments.
The first running of the game ended in a 1-1 draw at The Brentwood Centre. Sporting had looked set to cause an upset with a good performance. Steve Carvell had given them the lead, and Ryan Mallet was sent off for Brentwood shortly after. Harry Doyle came off the bench for the Bostik North side to equalise and prevent Sporting from recording a memorable result.
Sporting Bengal United have entered the FA Cup 12 times and recorded their best result in 2016 when the reached the first qualifying round. Unfortunately, they lost that game 6-1 away at King’s Langley, but would equal that achievement with a win over Brentwood. The Blues have much more of a cup pedigree having reached the main rounds of the competition in successive seasons. They lost 10-1 to Southend United in the Second Round in 1969 and 1-0 to Northampton Town in the Third Round in 1970.
Both sides have only played two league games so far this season. Sporting have drawn both of their Essex Senior League games, 0-0 against Barkingside and 4-4 against Saffron Walden Town. Brentwood have been on both ends of 1-0 results. They lost out to Maldon & Tiptree and then beat Barking.
East London turns up for the cup
It wasn’t a shock to see the Mile End Stadium’s main stand well stocked with eager fans. Nearly a year to the day I’d seen the Clapton Ultras fill the raised stand for an Essex Senior League game against Tower Hamlets. What was then several hundred standing tightly together clutching flags and cans of lager was now more sporadic groups of Sporting fans mixed with plenty from Brentwood, including their famous big banner that fitted perfectly at the front of the stand.
I have to say I really like the Mile End Stadium, despite the running track ensuring the action is an uncomfortable distance away. It’s in a great urban setting overlooked by tower blocks, and Canary Wharf while being flanked by Regent’s Canal and frequently passed by trains. Sporting Bengal United offered a friendly welcome, just as Tower Hamlets had a year earlier, as I rolled my daughters buggy through the leisure centre entrance.
There were a few familiar faces, or should I say Twitter handles, in the crowd as is becoming the norm now I’m into my second year of groundhopping. The game promised much as Sporting, by all accounts, had bossed the majority of the first game in Essex at the weekend. Surely, home advantage would mean a cup giant-killing and potentially the best result in the club’s short history. I positioned the pram as close to the pitch as we could get, sheltered from the breeze and the funky, ‘herbal’ fragrance that was being carried on it from the nearby five-a-side pitches.
Brentwood more clinical on a tense night
When I last saw Brentwood they were still able to call upon star players Andy Freeman (now at Aveley) and Matt Price (now at Heybridge). Both moved on last season, but the Blues had brought in several new faces over the summer including Albert Levett formerly of Barking and Tobi Joseph formerly of AFC Hornchurch. Both players would go on to help Brentwood progress into the First Qualifying Round.
United started the game well, played with intensity and attacked in the wide areas. For all the effort the best the hosts could muster in the early exchanges was a cross whipped across the face of goal. Brentwood’s start was more considered, but they looked to carry more of a threat going forward. They were soon rewarded as a throw-in was flicked into the path of Joseph who bundled the ball over the line. Sporting continued to press despite the setback and were finally beginning to show some quality in the final third. Budd, in the Brentwood goal, had to be at his best on several occasions to keep the home side out.
It looked as though Sporting would pull level as they won a penalty. Unfortunately, Siddek’s spot-kick was saved by Budd. Brentwood held onto the lead. Sporting continued to push forward and had a promising spell of corners towards the break. They couldn’t force the equaliser, however. The score remained 1-0 to the visitors at the break.
The pattern of the game continued in the second half with Sporting having most of the play while Brentwood looked threatening on the break. The home side won another penalty. This time Watson converted for the home side. The lead didn’t last long, however, as Brentwood immediately went down the other end and Hilton finished well to give the lead back to the visitors.
Both sides continued to have chances with several heart-in-mouth moments at both ends. The game began to get tense as the sides looked to find an edge. Cuthbert was sent off for two yellow cards that both appeared to be for separate incidents of kicking the ball away. Sporting were also soon down to 10 as Adeji was shown a second yellow for a cynical foul. Brentwood then settled the game as Levett caught the Sporting keeper stranded off his line while trying to help get the ball downfield. Levett’s excellent lob provided a superb bit of quality to finish off a great FA Cup tie.