It was a night of unbelievable drama as the old guard of Stepney FC came from behind to lift the Bangladesh Football Association Sonali Bank Cup final for the very first time in their trophy-laden history.
Stepney faced BYM at Mile End Stadium in a derby match which was the last for many of the starting eleven who have been fixtures and household names at the Tower Hamlets club for almost 25 years.
The importance of the game was made more significant before kick off as Stepney welcomed special match day guests and club stalwarts Runu Miah, Sorwar Alam and former player manager Forid Ahmed, who led the team to four trophies in one season.
It was a lethargic start for Muj Rahman’s side, with BYM taking control of the middle of the park and displaying greater hunger and desire. It was no surprise when the sky blues took the lead in the 20th minute through playmaker Hassan Abdi and followed it up with an unchallenged headed second from Imdad Hussain ten minutes before the break as Sham Zaman was left exposed by his back four. With Foyz and Sayeed Ahmed’s men in charge, only the diehards felt that Stepney were still in the game.
Rahman’s intense half time rollicking left the Stepney manager almost losing his voice, but the fierce tantrum seemed to do the trick as his rejuvenated side displayed greater purpose and attacking intent in the second half.
Despite bursts of inspiration Stepney were unable to score and it seemed a night of misery was destined after evergreen winger Mufi Uddin left the field with a devastating ankle injury and was replaced by Majid Chowdhury.
BYM almost made it three with a swift counter attack, and with the striker bearing down on goal Russell Chowdhury intervened with a brilliant trademark tackle. The ball, however, fell into the path of the BYM right winger who steamed in and unleashed a rasping drive. Stepney number one, the heroic Sham Zaman, pulled off the save of the day to keep his side in the game.
It was the turning point in the game – an Istanbul moment for the Reds. Sahidur Rahman replaced Jafar Alam and the attacking midfielder made an instant impact by scoring what looked to be a consolation goal from a precise Russell Choudhury assist.
Forhad Ahmed was bought on to replace Jamil Chowdhury and Harun Rashid came on for Tony Hirst. With fresh legs on the field Stepney powered forward, hitting BYM with absolutely everything in their locker.
With 92 minutes on the clock a corner from Mustafa Shahid was half cleared to Majid Chowdhury who steered the ball to Zaheer Saleh. It was a heart stopping moment as the Stepney captain craned his neck to steer home an incredible equaliser.
Nobody deserved it more than the backbone of this team of warriors. In preparation for the final Saleh had been arranging and delivering training three times a week, despite becoming a dad again. The veteran also previously managed Stepney through the club’s most successful era, and despite captaining season upon season he rarely received the headlines and plaudits he deserved. Tonight was his destiny.
It was vintage Stepney FC all over. As the ground erupted with pure unadulterated frenzy, the referee blew for full time. A shattered BYM never recovered after that, and with the game finishing level after extra time it was on to penalties.
Man of the match Sham Zaman pulled off three stunning saves and even missed one from the spot, whilst Toklisur Rahman and former skipper Sam O’ Brien made no mistakes to give Stepney the cup with one of the most dramatic comebacks this tournament has ever seen.
It was cruel for BYM who had controlled the lion’s share of the game and looked odds on to also lift this trophy for the first time. For sheer drama this victory is the greatest win in the history of Stepney Football Club, and the veterans leave with their heads held high.
Muj Rahman, celebrating his second trophy as head coach, struggled to contain his euphoria, announcing “The boys were down and out and then right back in it. Even though we played poorly in patches we were confident that if we got a goal back we would have our opponents on the back foot. This is a team accustomed to winning and this season has been particularly cruel for us. To end the campaign in this manner is amazing. Thank you to everyone who came to support us despite the freezing cold and rain.”
BFA Chair Aroz Miah handed over the trophy to triumphant Stepney captain Zaheer Saleh, who skippered the team for the last time at this level. He said, “For me it’s been an honour and privilege to serve this team and pick up so many pieces silverware. Tonight is the icing on the cake for us old boys and a particularly poignant moment for me and many of my team mates, who move onto new beginnings. I believe we have left a sound legacy and I hope our achievements will continue to inspire generations of Stepney players in the future.”
As the old guard sign off with silverware and sail off into the sunset to pursue new challenges, the new boys at Stepney FC now take over their mantle. If they achieve a quarter of the achievements of their illustrious predecessors they would have boasted hugely accomplished careers.
Chair: Emdad Rahman MBE
Vice Chair: Tharik Hussain
Head coach: Mujibur Rahman
Sham Zaman – Zaheer Saleh – Russell Choudhury- Tony Hirst – Sam O’ Brien – Forhad Ahmed – Majid Chowdhury – Robin Syed – Jafar Alam – Akik Miah – Jack Taylor – Abdul Salik – Ruku Sultan – Ripon Hussain – Siam Uddin – Harun Rashid – Heron Miah – Amin Chowdhury – Afazul Hoque – Jamil Chowdhury – Jafar Alam – Toklisur Rahman – Sahidur Rahman – Mufi Uddin – Mustafa Shahid – Rashid Chibou