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Tuesday 5th February 2019 ko 19.45

Southern Counties East- Premier Division

PUNJAB UNITED 5 (Suman 7 34 45 Adesite 52 Hamici 57)

RUSTHALL 1 (Sunday 85)

Att 72

Entry £7

Programme £1

The car found the one remaining parking spot in the Elite Venue in Gravesend and Robyn looked doubtful. It was cold, windy, and frankly she didn’t fancy watching a game, any game. So as I headed to the referees’ changing room for the team line-ups she investigated whether she could spend the evening in the clubhouse. I do wonder what she’d have made of this story, if she’d have managed to avoid going in?

There are of course no lack of football clubs with an Asian background, an obvious one at this level is Leicester Nirvana but since Punjab use the epithet “Kent’s most successful Asian club” I found myself thinking of nearby Guru Nanak with its amazing backdrop, but they’re playing Kent County League football, two notches blow this level, 5 promotions from the Football League. Off hand I can’t think of another Asian club in Kent doing this well so I’m bound to say they’ve got a point.

I do think to describe them as an Asian club is to misunderstand them though. One look at the team line-ups shows a multi-cultural team and that was reflected off of the pitch too. I must admit I’d looked at “Elite Venue” and assumed a municipal caged 3G pitch with one of those horrible “Arena” stands to keep the ground graders happy.

I was half-right, there is an “Arena” stand but just look at the home-made stand to it’s left! And on a purely architectural basis what I’ll remember the Elite Venue for is how the club have taken a pitch and it’s surround and turned it into something that both allows the club to progress and still remains uniquely Punjab United.

But Robyn, the other hoppers there that night and I won’t remember Punjab United for any of that- my photos in so many ways are irrelevant here. We’ll all remember the tremendous hospitality we received, and the club getting their catering absolutely spot on. Far too many Asian clubs seem unable or unwilling to turn their background’s food into something for sale at their games; Queens Park Crescents managed it beautifully on last year’s Bedfordshire Hop but as good as that was it was a one-off.

So when Punjab managed the most wonderful spiced kebabs and managed to square that with the more usual clubhouse and bar fayre, it rather mirrored my earlier thoughts that the club had managed to meld an Asian background with a multi-cultural here-and-now without losing sight of who they are.

Equally impressive were the team. Star of the show was obviously Arun Suman whose first half hat trick was so deftly completed it looked almost casual. That’s not to say Rusthall were a bad side, far from it, but they got flattened here by a Punjab side that on this evening were irresistible. I found myself looking at the club’s motto, “Pride Passion, Punjab” and while the alliteration is a little clunky, it does aptly describe a club on the rise, adapting to the realities of their progress but without losing that link to their roots.

The final whistle sounded, and Robyn and I gently extricated ourselves from the car park and headed for home, utterly content with what we’d experienced.