Football in Bangladesh
Rural children playing football in a Bangladeshi village
CountryBangladesh
Governing bodyBangladesh Football Federation
National team(s)Men's national squad Women's national squad
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Football is currently the second-most popular sport in Bangladesh, after cricket,[1] and is governed by the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF). An interest in cricket resulting from the nation's success in Test cricket and participation in the Cricket World Cup overshadowed the past fame in the nation's football legacy. However, more football tournaments are being organized in and outside Dhaka than of any other sports, and football fever grips the nation during every FIFA World Cup as well as Copa America and UEFA European Championship. Federation officials and experts are still hopeful about the development of football in the country within the next ten years despite huge financial obstacles, inadequate technical adaptation and lack of professionalism.[2]

History

Origins

DSA captain Pakhi Sen and Islington Corinthas captain P Clark shake hand just before the match as referee Khaza Azmal looks on in 1937

Before Independence in 1971, the 30s and 40s saw the football rivalry between Kolkata and Dhaka started under DSA (Dhaka Sporting Association), which was mainly created to develop players in the east.[3] The majority of the team was made out of students from Dhaka University, when they defeated Islington Corinthians 1–0, on 22 November 1937 .[4] During the liberation war in 1971, football was the way to create international awareness about the war of independence. The Swadhin Bangla Football Team was established which played 16 matches in India and was officially received by the BFF in 2009. Zakaria Pintoo, who was the captain of that team and the first person to wave Bangladesh's flag in a foreign land.[5][6]

The period before the 1990s saw national soccer fever in league football, specifically in the Dhaka League, which possessed club teams that were famous both at home and abroad. League football was popular even before independence, from the 1940s to 1960s under Pakistan. There were several well-established football clubs in Dhaka in the 1940s, notable clubs that participated in the historical Dhaka Football League from 1933 till the country's partition from Pakistan were Wari Club, Victoria SC, Lakshibazar Club, East End Club, Central Jail XI, Dhaka Wanderers Club and Tejgaon Friends Union, EP Gymkhana, Railways, and Fire service. A match between East Pakistan Governors XI vs. West Bengal XI was held at Dhaka in the late forties, which also attracted thousands of fans to the stadium.[7] The first Dhaka League was won by Bangladeshi club Victoria SC in 1948, three years prior to the Mother Language Movement while still under Pakistani rule. Many of Dhaka's league teams went on to become among the most successful teams in the Asian continent (mostly between the 1970s to the early 1990s). The league also went as far as having players from top European teams. The late 1950s and 1960s saw, Bengali football starting to earn more popularity among the people, when the clubs took part in the Aga Khan Gold Cup, which was held Dhaka every year, the President Gold Cup, Dana Cup and Gothia Cup, were also popular competitions at the time, where clubs from all over Asia participated in.[8][9]

Rise in popularity (1972–2003)

Bangladesh national team at the 1973 Merdeka Cup in Malaysia.

After the establishment of Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) in 1972, India's Mohun Bagan became the first international football team to visit independent Bangladesh, and on 13 May 1972, they played against the country's unrecognized national team called the Dhaka XI, who defeated the Indian's 1–0.[10] The national team played their first international match against Thailand in the 1973 Merdeka tournament in Malaysia. Enayetur Rahman became the country's first-ever goal scorer, during the game.[11] After its membership with FIFA in 1976 and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the national team participated in the 1980 AFC Asian Cup. Although Bangladesh failed to win a single game during the competition, their performances against North Korea and Syria impressed the whole country. But the team's best results came at the South Asian level where they won the South Asian Football Federation Gold Cup 2003 under György Kottán and were gold medalists in South Asian Games twice.[8] The country took part in their first FIFA World Cup qualifiers in 1986, and again during the 1990 qualifiers. The team produced a few memorable performances against Iran, China, and Thailand along the way. On 4 November 1995, Bangladesh won the 4-nation Tiger Trophy held in Myanmar, which was the country's very first major trophy.[12][13]

Football was played both in the domestic leagues and abroad. Bangladesh Red were runners-up in the first President Gold Cup in 1981 and won it in 1989. Besides that, Bangladeshi clubs bagged two more titles abroad: Quaid-E-Azam Trophy of Pakistan in 1985 and Jigme Dorji Wangchuk Memorial Football of Bhutan in 2003.[8] The early 80s and 90s was the country's golden period, the three traditional Dhaka League giants Mohammedan, Abahani Limited Dhaka and Brothers Union had fans from all over the nation. Soon the country's local clubs began to compete in continental tournaments, as in 1985, Abahani Limited Dhaka took part in the 1985–86 Asian Club Championship, becoming the first Bangladeshi club to do so. The domestic competitions helped the popularity of footballs skyrocket in the country and 1988 also saw Mohammedan reach the semi-finals of the Asian Club Championship.[14] Along with the club teams, the national football team was also at the center of attention of the football fans, who watched their beloved side to fight neck-to-neck before going down to the current Asian giants like Japan, South Korea, Iran, China, and the then strong teams like Syria and Thailand in competitions like Asian Cup qualifiers, World Cup pre-qualifiers and the country's President Gold Cup.[15] The league also attracted internationally renowned players like Emeka Ezeugo and Nasser Hejazi.[16]

Stagnation (2003–2010)

The next decade saw a series of managerial changes in the national team and many famous coaches were appointed like the Austrian György Kottán and German Otto Pfister, who coached Ivory Coast to the qualification of their first FIFA World Cup finals in 2006. However, in 2006, Bangladesh reached the quarterfinals of the AFC Challenge Cup under Argentine coach Andres Cruciani and in 2010, Bangladesh won the 11th South Asian Games on home soil under the Serbian Zoran Đorđević, who left in February the same year. In 2007, the Bangladesh Premier League was introduced, replacing the historic Dhaka League which had been the country's main league competition even before its independence, this marked the start of a professional football league and the country's first ever wide open national league were teams outside of Dhaka could participate. The new league was introduced to improve the nation's footballing standards and to help produce future national stars, as the Bangladesh team was in the midst of bad results.[17]

6 September 2011 was the most unforgettable moment of Bangladeshi football. Lionel Messi and his national team Argentina, played a friendly match against Nigeria at Bangabandhu National Stadium. Bangladeshi footballers were privileged to see the match and Bangladeshi footballers were encouraged and motivated by Argentine footballers. They believe Bangladesh football can go far ahead if world-class facilities are brought into the footballing system.[18]

On 4 April 2011, Bangladeshi football legend Kazi Salahuddin was re-elected as the president of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF). He has come under controversy ever since he took charge of the BFF board.[19] He took the first initiative of Bangladesh Super League known as "Koti Takar League". His initiations attract international players as well as highly-rated international coaches.[20] However, the Super league failed to come into existence.

Downward spiral (2011–present)

From 2010 to 2020, Bangladeshi football reached an all-time low, with a total of 15 head coaches being sacked by the BFF. This led to both domestic and international football losing popularity among fans and the country falling to the lowest FIFA rank in its history. Since the start of the decade, the BFF was forced to recruit expatriate players, as the country failed to produce talent due to no development at the grassroots level and an unorganized league structure.[21] Nonetheless, foreign recruitment has not shown any sign of improvement in the national team and could not save the team from freefall. Domestic players also have shown a lack of basic football knowledge and skill, resulting from the shortage of quality academies present in the country, which is essential for player growth.[22] BFF introduced the second-tier league in 2012 as season 5 of the Premier League was commencing.[23] The league was named the Bangladesh Championship League, but since its inception the league has failed to maintain professionalism: a scenario similar to the top tier.

During the AFC Asia Cup 2019 qualification playoff round 2, under Tom Saintfiet, the team suffered its biggest humiliation against Bhutan. Following a 0–0 draw in the first leg in Dhaka, Bhutan inflicted a 3–1 defeat on Bangladesh at the Changlimithang Stadium, Thimphu, in the second leg. The result meant that Bangladesh would not be able to take part in AFC and FIFA arranged games for the next two years.[24]

On 26 June 2019, Dhaka Abahani became the first Bangladeshi club to reach the 2019 AFC Cup knock out phase, by defeating Indian side Minarva Punjab 1–0 on aggregate.[25]

The BPL was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a limited program of matches was in place through 2021. On 12 February 2022, it was announced that the BPL would return to its normal home-and-away format.[26]

Governing body

Main article: Bangladesh Football Federation

The Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) was established on 15 July 1972 as the governing body and has been a member of the FIFA since 1974 and AFC in 1973. The federation is responsible for organizing all club championships and the professional league. It is currently working with AFC's Vision Asia program to improve the domestic football infrastructure.

The BFF is presided by Kazi Salahuddin since April 2008.[27]

Leagues

Tier 1: Bangladesh Premier League (football)

See also: Bangladesh Premier League (football)

The Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) (Bengali: বাংলাদেশ প্রিমিয়ার লিগ) is the top tier of the Bangladeshi football league system. It is run by the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF). The Dhaka Derby between Abahani Dhaka and Mohammedan SC is one of the league's most popular matches. The BPL superseded the Dhaka Premier Division League which had functioned as the top tier from 1948 to 2006.

Founded in 2007 as the country's first professional national football league, the BPL was originally known as the B.League and was renamed the Bangladesh League in 2009. In 2012, it was rebranded as the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).

The first B League match took place on 2 March 2007 between Abahani Limited Dhaka and Muktijoddha Sangsad KC at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, ending in a goalless draw. The next day in Khulna, Prashanta Dey scored the first goal in the history of professional football in the country as Khulna Abahani blanked the capital side Rahmatganj MFS 2–0. On 27 March 2007, Alfaz Ahmed netted the first hat-trick in B League history to give Muktijoddha Sangsad a 4–1 win over Rahmatganj MFS.

Abahani Limited Dhaka have won the league a record six times since 2007. In the 2015–16 season, Abahani Limited Dhaka also became the first team to win the professional league title with an unbeaten record.

Tier 2: Bangladesh Championship League

Bangladesh Championship League (abbr. BCL;Bengali: বাংলাদেশ চ্যাম্পিয়নশিপ লিগ) is the second-tier professional football league of Bangladesh run by the Bangladesh Football Federation . It was founded in 2012. The league is also known as TVS Championship League for sponsorship agreements from 2018–19.

Tier 3: Dhaka Senior Division Football League

Dhaka Senior Division Football League (Bengali: ঢাকা সিনিয়র ডিভিশন ফুটবল লিগ), or the First Division Football League, is the third tier football league in Bangladesh. Until 2006, it was the top-tier league of the country. It was officially established in 1948 as Dhaka League, while Bangladesh was still under Pakistani control.

Tier 4: Dhaka Second Division Football League

The Dhaka Second Division Football League (Bengali: ঢাকা দ্বিতীয় বিভাগ ফুটবল লীগ) is the fourth-tier football league in Bangladesh and the second-highest league division in Dhaka. The league was officially founded in 1948 as the second tier of the Dhaka League (First Division) when Bangladesh was under Pakistani rule.

Tier 5: Dhaka Third Division Football League

Dhaka Third Division Football League (Bengali: ঢাকা তৃতীয় বিভাগ ফুটবল লীগ), officially known as Bashundhara Group Third Division (U-17) Football League due to sponsorship reasons and change of format, is the fifth-tier football league in Bangladesh, as well as the third and lowest league division in Dhaka. It was established in 1948 as the third-tier of the Dhaka League, while Bangladesh was still under Pakistani rule. From 2022–23 season, the league is being arranged as an under-17 league.

Tier 6: Pioneer Football League

Pioneer Football League (Bengali: পাইওনিয়ার ফুটবল লীগ), also known as the Bangladesh Pioneer Football League, is an age-level league and also the sixth-tier of Bangladeshi football organised by Bangladesh Football Federation. The semi-finalsits of the competition are promoted to the Dhaka Third Division Football League. As the tournament is considered to be the lowest level of Bangladeshi football, so the number of participants is unlimited as well as any club is able to send an application to participate in the tournament.

Cups

Domestic cup competitions

International cup competitions

Qualification for Asian competitions

Competition Allocated Slot Qualifier
AFC Challenge League 1 Bangladesh Premier League (football) Champion

Clubs

Further information: List of football clubs in Bangladesh

Successful ones among earlier clubs were Mohammedan SC, Dhaka Wanderers, Victoria SC, Wari Club, East Pakistan Gymkhana and Azad SC.

Among a total of 4,100 clubs,[28] the most renowned clubs today are namely Abahani Limited, Mohammedan SC, Muktijoddha SKS, Brothers Union, Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club , Bashundhara Kings and Sheikh Russel KC.

Former players

East Pakistan football team which won the King Mahendra Cup in Nepal in 1970. The team consisted of players from both East and West regions of Pakistan.

Champions overview

Tournament Current Champions
Bangladesh Premier League Bashundhara Kings
Bangladesh Championship League Brothers Union
Federation Cup Dhaka Mohammedan
Independence Cup Bashundhara Kings
Bangladesh Women's Football League Bashundhara Kings Women
BFF U-18 Football League Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club
BFF U-16 Football Tournament Kawran Bazar Pragati Sangha

International competitions hosted

Competition Edition Winner Final Runners-up India's position Venues Final venue
Men's senior competitions
AFC Challenge Cup 2006 AFC Challenge Cup Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
0–4
 Tajikistan Quarterfinals 3 (in 2 city) Bangabandhu National Stadium
SAFF Championship 2003 South Asian Football Federation Gold Cup  Bangladesh
1-1
(5-4) Pens
 Maldives Champions 1 (in 1 city) Bangabandhu National Stadium
SAFF Championship 2009 SAFF Championship  India
0-0
(3-1) Pens
 Maldives Semi-Finals 1 (in 1 city) Bangabandhu National Stadium
SAFF Championship 2018 SAFF Championship  Maldives 2-1  India Group Stage 1 (in 1 city) Bangabandhu National Stadium

Bangabandhu Cup

Editions Winners
1996–97  Malaysia
1999  Japan
2015  Malaysia
2016    Nepal
2018  Palestine
2020  Palestine

Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup

Editions Winners
2015 Bangladesh Chittagong Abahani Limited
2017 Maldives T.C. Sports Club
2019 Malaysia Terengganu FC

National team achievements

See also: Bangladesh national football team

Women's football

See also: Bangladesh women's national football team

In a country whose population is predominantly Muslim, there is some resistance towards women's football. The women's game has struggled to gain a foothold in Bangladesh in the past and many tournaments dedicated to women have failed. Women's football finally saw light in Bangladesh when the first ever women's football tournament was staged under the Vision Asia programme in November 2007. Eight teams from different districts all over the country took part in the tournament and made it a success amidst security threats.[29]

In October 2008, the first women's school football tournament was held under the Vision Bangladesh programme with BFF hopeful of continuing and developing the women's game in the country.[30]

Women's football was included in the 2010 South Asian Games hosted in Dhaka, while the first Women's SAFF Championship was to be held that December in the country. Bangladesh had their first women's national team in the AFC U-19 Women's Championship qualifiers with India, Jordan and Iran in their group. The establishment of the Bangamata Primary School Gold Cup in 2011 by the Primary and Mass Education Department of the government led to more than a million female students from more than 60,000 primary schools taking part in the initial phase of the tournament.

Notable players in foreign leagues

Major football stadiums

The major arenas in the country are

# Stadium Capacity City Home Team(s)
1 Bangabandhu National Stadium 36,000 Dhaka Bangladesh national football team
2 M. A. Aziz Stadium 30,000 Chittagong Chittagong Abahani Limited
3 Rafiq Uddin Bhuiyan Stadium 25,000 Mymensingh Bangladesh Police FC, Mohammedan SC (Dhaka)
4 Sheikh Kamal Stadium, Nilphamari 25,000 Nilphamari District
5 Bir Sherestha Shaheed Shipahi Mostafa Kamal Stadium 25,000 Dhaka Bangladesh Championship League, Dhaka Senior Division Football League, Dhaka Second Division Football League
6 Bangladesh Army Stadium 20,000 Dhaka Bangladesh Army Football Team
7 Shaheed Dhirendranath Datta Stadium 18,000 Comilla Abahani Limited Dhaka, Mohammedan SC (Dhaka)
8 Sylhet District Stadium 15,000 Sylhet
9 Bashundhara Kings Arena 14,000 Dhaka Bashundhara Kings

References

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Further reading