Recently, the International Federation of Corporate Football (Fifco) announced that some new members were on board.
One of those was Bangladesh. And every member in Fifco have a director, for Bangladesh, it is Imranur Rahman, who has been the organizer of the BGMEA Cup for the last five years.
The name BGMEA Cup might not ring a bell as in a country where cricket is so dominant, football often finds it tough to get through to people. When it comes down to corporate football, general football fans hardly have the knowledge about it.
But Imran is trying heart and soul to make corporate football popular in Bangladesh. BGMEA Cup has already been a big stepping stone to that. Imran, who has been a player in this arena for about eight years now, is living his childhood dream of being a footballer through corporate football and his team Bando Design, is set to take it to the next level.
How it all started
In an interview with The Business Standard (TBS), Imran went back to his childhood to talk about how his passion for the game grew.
"I studied at Dhaka Residential Model College. My passion for football comes from there, from watching my friends and seniors play. Plus when I was in Kalabagan, there was this Tetultala field where we started playing. We played five-a-side football in mini-posts and I think maybe that habit helped us later to do so well in futsal," Imran said.
Imran's record in corporate football is staggering. He has played 189 games till date, scoring 377 goals. In the last eight years, his team Bando Design have competed in 28 tournaments and has played the final in 26 of them.
Corporate football started in Bangladesh 14 years back in 2006 when Farhan Quddus of Excalibur Entertainment launched the Ascent Cup. It was a five-a-side futsal tournament and is currently held at the Scholastica campus in Uttara. Since then there have been other tournaments such as Football Fiesta, BGMEA Cup, etc.
Imran had been running an underground football team named 'Amigos' since 2006. And by the time Imran came to know about corporate football, his teammates from 'Amigos' were already working for his company. Then, Bando Design started their journey in the corporate football arena.
"I had an underground team since 2006, named 'Amigos'. That team had a different bonding, we were like a family. I always kept tabs on how my teammates' lives and education was going. So after they completed their studies, most of them joined my company as employees. When I appointed them, I had no idea that we would go on to play corporate football together someday," Imran reminisced.
It was a splendid start for Bando Design in corporate football. Their first-ever tournament was Bangla CAT,
"We won the Bangla CAT. After that, we went on to participate in the Ascent Cup and then we came to know that around 48-50 teams play corporate football. Every renowned company in Bangladesh was participating. So, as we all played underground football together for six years, we had a very good understanding of the game. And as it was Futsal, we only needed 5-6 decent players," Imran added.
The only way forward is up
After Bando Design started to play in the Ascent Cup, they got a call up from Kolkata's Parsee Cup. After they passed the trials, they were allowed to participate and in the tournament next year and became champions.
"Ascent Cup's referee Bradley Williams comes from India. Through him, we went to India to give a trial in the Kolkata Parsee Cup. Mr Ratan, the VP of Sports there, wanted to check out if we were genuine corporates. So we went to India to give a trial at the back end of 2014 and proved our worth. Then we were invited to participate in India in 2015. Big teams like Aditya Birla, Tata, and Decathlon played in that tournament but we were the champions at our first attempt."
Since then, Imran's team Bando Design has played in the Parsee Cup for five years in a row, winning it four times and being runners-up once. They are set to play there for the sixth time but with the global coronavirus pandemic, everything is under doubt now.
Bando Design played a couple of more tournaments in India and reached the final on both occasions.
The reason behind their success is not just them playing together but their passion for the game and the company too. Imran mentioned that many teams field their employees who are appointed to play but it is not the same in Bando.
"Nobody receives any extra benefit for playing. The bonding is strong among us. The players get leave when they are going abroad to play in tournaments and their assistants cover up their work. They just help a bit during the day time with their laptop. In general, they receive no extra benefits. I know there are teams where you get a salary for playing," Imran stated.
Imran is forever grateful to his teammates - Mobarak, Mamun, Rony, Shakil, Mridul, Akbar, Rashed, Rajib & Mehatab for all they have done together, their achievements over the years.
Launching the BGMEA Cup
In 2016, Imran proposed to his father, Siddiqur Rahman, the then President of BGMEA to launch a corporate football tournament for the garments industry. Siddiqur promptly agreed as he viewed this as a way for the workers to have fun and also, this would help people to get jobs in the garments sector as there was the option of fielding former footballers in the teams.
"He was in support of it that the workers would have fun, we would host the final in the Army Stadium in a grand manner, thousands of workers will be there, there will be music, it will be broadcast on TV," Imran said.
The tournament was launched with three primary goals, one - to provide the workers with some entertainment, two - to create some job opportunities and three - to help the former footballers who are in a tight spot economically. And till date, it has helped, Imran informs.
"Some people have got jobs in the garments industry because of corporate football. Not only the BGMEA Cup, but many have got a job because of the Ascent Cup and Football Fiesta too. Bright students who play football have got jobs," Imran added.
The BGMEA Cup has had five editions and Bando Design have won three of them.
"We started the BGMEA Cup in 2016. 16 teams participate in it and you have to be a member of BGMEA to participate. The rules are a bit different here, you can play guest players. It's a seven-a-side tournament with the final being eight-a-side," Imran apprised.
Few Guest Players who contributed over the years in BGMEA CUP for Bando Design were Shatadru, Ariq, Ratan, Rohit & Sharan.
As mentioned earlier, Imran is the current Director representing Bangladesh in fifco. He was affiliated earlier this year, hoped to take Bangladesh's corporate football forward through this affiliation.
Imran informed that he was recommended by India Fifco's director Mr Sandeep to Fifco President Mr Albert Zbily.
"Director, India Fifco, Mr Sandeep recommended me to Mr Albert, President of Fifco who followed the event I organize, 'BGMEA Cup' and he was impressed to offer me the role," Imran said.
Also, Fifco allowed the BGMEA cup to be the World Cup qualifier for Bangladesh.
"After Bangladesh became a member recently, I proposed that the BGMEA Cup should be the qualifier for us and the champion here will play the World Cup. They agreed and we publicized it and luckily my team won in the final. Hopefully, Bando Design will go for the World Champions Cup 2020, which is scheduled in October for now, given that Almighty willing coronavirus and everything settles down," Added Imran.
Friend, Wife, Inspiration
Besides football, Imran has two RMG companies - Bando Design and Laila Styles. Around 7,000 workers work in these two companies under him and also, he is currently in the BGMEA as the chairman of the foreign mission sales committee and the vice-chairman of the sports committee.
For Imran, his wife, Samira Alam, is his source of inspiration and it was because of her support that he was still playing at the age of 39.
"My wife is my inspiration. In a sense, Samira Alam is a part of me. There is no team of which the owner's wife watches every minute of it, follows every game. She inspires me to play futsal. I am still continuing football because of the support from my wife and my children," Imran said.
Imran has three kids, two boys and a girl and were born as triplets.
Imran started his journey in corporate football eight years back. And now, he has reached the top. And if things go alright, he is set to represent the country in the World Cup of corporate football. And if his team succeeds there, there is a heavy chance that corporate football will have the appreciation Imran has been thriving for over the years.