The Bangabandhu National Football Championship is advancing to its business end under-the-radar as the first-leg matches of the final round of eight different zones was completed yesterday, but the tournament -- which was revived after 13 years to celebrate the 100th birthday of Father of Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman -- has hardly draw spectators’ attention due to a lack of publicity.
Naogaon, Pabna, Chattogram, Rajbari, Cumilla, Mymensigh and Netrokona won their first-leg matches, with the return legs scheduled for February 3, while the match between Bagerhat and Noakhali ended in a stalemate.
The championship’s revival is certainly a commendable initiative from the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) as it gives each of the district teams an opportunity to play at least four matches on a home-and-away basis.
Winners progress to the Cup round while the losing teams play each other in the Plate round, a new format in the country’s football. Previously, teams would be eliminated after losing one match, but this initiative ensures they get to play three more matches regardless of the result in their first game.
However, the standards of the championship are far from the benchmark of leagues in Dhaka as district teams got little time to prepare. Some even struggled to form squads due to the absence of football activities at the district level.
“We initially picked 40 players through a trial. We made announcements for the trial through large megaphones in all the upazilas and then trimmed it to 20 after training,” Joypurhat DFA president Enayetur Rahman Akanda told The Daily Star yesterday. “The standards are more or less good, considering the championship is happing after a long period.”
Joypurhat yesterday lost 3-0 to Naogaon after having previously played four matches and will play the home leg on February 3. However, Akanda said the financial assistance afforded by the BFF was not enough to play a home-and-away basis championship.
“We didn’t face much trouble in forming the squad because the local league has been organised regularly. We picked players from there. But we are struggling to meet expenses as we already spent Tk 1 lakh playing three away matches,” said Sherpur DFA president Manik Laskor, whose side yesterday lost 0-1 to Netrokona.
However, Abdul Matin, who was match commissioner for three games, was disappointed with the poor turnout, observing only 1,000 to 2,000 spectators watching the matches in Kurigram, Nilphamari and Rajshahi.
“I’m really frustrated after observing the lack of enthusiasm and I mentioned the poor turnout at the stadium in my report. However, the players have been trying their best to perform although I think there is dearth of team cohesion due to a lack of preparation,” said Matin.
Former referee Mansur Azad believes that fans and players would be more enthusiastic had the game’s governing body allowed Bangladesh Premier League players, thereby drawing more people to the stadiums.
Another match commissioner seeking anonymity said that there were hardly any quality players due to the absence of district leagues, adding that the players in the competition were not technically sound.
However, the DFA presidents and the match commissioners urged the game’s governing body to hold the championship every year, opining that the situation and standard of the game would gradually improve.