Comment: An unheralded sport loses yet another supporter

By M Wasim

“Well, I am not feeling well nowadays but if it’s about football, just tell me how I can help you.” These were the words of the late Ghulam Rabbani when I rang him and asked about his career and opinion for my book on Pakistan football almost a year ago. Such was his zeal and commitment for football. I could sense his health was deteriorating but his eternal passion for the game could also be felt through his powerful voice and thoughtful comments during the interview. His excitement for the game was contagious.

With the death of Sheikh Ghulam Rabbani on Friday, a notable chapter of Pakistan football has also ended. Born in Delhi, Rabbani worked for the game of football a great deal. During his playing days, the national team was ranked among the top teams of Asia and it was not easy for players to find a place in the squad. That is why Rabbani could not feature in the national team regularly.

But it is generally believed that Rabbani was an outstanding performer and one of the fastest runners of his time. Such was his charisma that his exclusion from the team never went unnoticed. Questions always surfaced.

A right winger from Karachi, Rabbani was not only a speedy runner and a deceptive dribbler, he was also an intelligent passer too, with a good reading of the game. The ability to create space, bring the ball into the danger zone and send pin-point crosses were some of the hallmarks of his brilliant play.

Records suggest that Rabbani was selected in the national team for the 1954 Colombo Cup in Calcutta but because of the richness of the squad he was unable to feature in any of the matches. After a long gap, his great form playing for the Wanderers enabled his comeback in the national team for the 1958 Asian Games. There he finally succeeded to cement his place in the team and served Pakistan football with dignity. He also played two Merdeka Cups in 1960 and 1962, and in the later edition under the leadership of late Captain Omar he played a key role in Pakistan’s progress to attain the second position in the event.

At the domestic front he represented Pakistan Mughal Football Club from 1953 to 1962 and also won the National Championship for Punjab four times. Rabbani also played for the professional league in the late fifties and became a must-for-selection in the Dhaka Wanderers, when the club was one of the top ones of the Dhaka Professional Football League. After a spell of more than a decade in pro-football, Rabbani knotted his football ties with PIA before hanging his boots permanently.

After retirement he served the Pakistan Football Federation’s Selection Committee as a member. He is one of the key figures responsible to launch the PIA Football team in late sixties, which has won the national championship more than any other team in Pakistan.

His demise is really an irrecoverable loss for Pakistan, where football still remains an under-prioritised sport. As we lose a golden chapter of our football history, Pakistan football will search in vain to extend the rightful gratitude for a hero’s laudable services to the game.

The writer is a freelance sport columnist.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2010