By ALI AHSAN
Chief Editor, Forum Administrator, & Pakistan Correspondent of FootballPakistan.Com (FPDC)
Football is a beautiful game loved by all, used for fitness, and even enjoyed as a pastime by our cricketing heroes.
Cricket is a game that has become part of the Pakistani cultural mosaic in our 60 odd years of existence as an independent country. It is a sport that has a glorious, storied history in our lands with a lot of ups, downs, joys, heartbreaks, inspirations and disappointments (the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup run of the Pakistan team included…).
Not bad for a sport played the same number of teams as the number of fingers in your hands, out of which of only 2-3 actually take the game seriously!
Compare that with football. A truly global game, loved by all, played by all, and followed by all. Plus all you need is a ball and a max of 22 pairs of feet that just need to know how to kick and run on a field!
For such a simple game, it has captured the imagination of every country on every continent. Pakistan is no exception. Thanks to the satellite and cable TV revolutions, it is considered a must among Pakistani kids and young adults to be fans of football. Thankfully this change is more permanent than the once-every-four-years bandwagon flavours once experienced by FIFA World Cup action on TV in past!
It is no surprise that the love of football has rubbed onto our cricket fanatics, followers, and even players. The influence, appeal, desire, and glamour related to football is like a Hollywood blockbuster, compared to the drama in cricket that makes our sport look like a Star Plus soap opera!
Football is more than just some billion-dollar industry. People forget that it is also a very healthy activity and really fun sport to play to stay fit and enjoy – not that I personally have any experiences of actually playing any sport apart from insisting on being an umpire and cricket and scoring a goal by accident whilst eating French fries from my lunch box in school!
During the 2011 ICC World Cup adventure, it was frequent to see many Pakistan supporters switching channels from time to time to see the ongoing Premier League and La Liga action, and then switching back to rooting for Pakistan or any other side they wanted to win on a particular match day.
The appeal of football has also rubbed on to our cricket team as well. Many of them were followers of the game for many years either because of satellite TV or exposure to the game whilst playing country cricket in England. One famous example of such kind is Wasim Akram.
Back when Wasim bhai was ripping through the opposing batting line-ups for Lancashire, he was up close and personal with the rise and dominance of Manchester United who played just up the road at Old Trafford football stadium from the namesake cricket ground that was home to Lancashire. He fondly talks about his experiences there, and frequently seeing the likes of Giggs, Scholes, Cantona, Beckham et al. gracing the Man United colours. Since then, Wasim Akram has been a United fan to boot.
Pakistan’s beloved speed devil in fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar is such a massive football fan, that he adopted the #14 jersey number of his favourite Arsenal legend Thierry Henry as his own squad number whenever he played for Pakistan.
Former captain Younis Khan has always been a football fan for years, and apparently played well as a kid before making cricket his passion. In fact so much was his love for football that back in 2009, when Younis was still captain, the then Pakistan football team’s Austrian head coach George Kottan invited Younis Khan and other journalists to visit the football team’s training sessions and held a joint press conference to highlight the need to give more media coverage to our sport.
Even those not keen fans of world football in the cricket team, have been keenly involved in for training sessions to improve fitness and stamina. The players really enjoy this activity, and some really have a lot of great yet serious fun in preparation for matches.
But given this is the Pakistan cricket team infamous for turning everything it touches to hilarity, remember the Inzamam-Younis Khan fight in a practice football game in training during our 2003 ICC World Cup campaign?
Maybe the cricket team should do a friendly game against our football team, just to show how football is supposed to be played! – not that our boys can scare anyone on the football pitch but themselves at times. But it would make a great PR exercise and a great opportunity to meet-and-greet the personalities of both sports.
We really are cricket-crazy country in a cricket-crazy region (to people outside the region, we are just ‘crazy’) but the craze of football is also immense and growing year by year. It’s time that our craze also goes towards a sport taken seriously by whole world and not exclusive to a sport taken seriously by South Asians and (to a decreasing extent) Australians only!
One hopes that a vital victory for Pakistan in upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014 Asian qualifiers against Bangladesh would really set the stage for further qualification rounds against increasingly difficult Asian opponents where we a good crowd support can do wonders for our morale in football.
We may not have the flamboyance and audacity of Shahid Afridi, but our football team certainly does have its share of Kamran Akmals! And we love them still, and we want them to improve and attain the glory that Pakistani football craves for.
The beautiful games calls! You can support your Man Uniteds, Chelseas, Arsenals, Liverpools, Real Madrids, Barcelonas, Milans etc… but your country needs you to support its own football team!