The club scene

While Pakistan’s stature in world football remains unchanged, the landscape of football in Pakistan has changed tremendously over the last 10 or so years.

Fundamental to this has been the setting up of football leagues coupled with the impact of cable/satellite resulting in matches of all top foreign leagues of the world being telecast live.

Following on from the success of the department based K-League (brainchild of the late Hassan Musa of PIA), Karachi United FC launched the Karachi Premier League in 2003 (Karachi League). Thereafter, in 2004, the PFF organised the first ever national league, i.e., the PPFL. While other leagues have been set up from time to time, PPFL and the Karachi League are the only leagues that have managed to maintain continuity.

Whereas the Karachi League was and continues to aim at the promotion of club football in Karachi, the PPFL features the top teams in the country which essentially comprise of departments and the armed forces teams plus a handful of clubs.

Three teams, namely, Wapda (four titles), Army (two) and this season’s top team KRL (who will add a third title to their two previous ones) have been dominant in the nine seasons of the PPFL. On the other hand, the Karachi League has seen as many as seven different winners in its past nine seasons with Shahzad Mohammadan FC being the only club to have won two titles.

The complete list of winners of the Karachi League is: Hyderi Baloch (2003), Lyari Labour Welfare Centre (2004-05), Young Ansari (2005-06), Keamari Mohammadan (2006-07), Shahzad Mohammadan (2007-08 and 2008-09), Chanesar Blue (2009-10), Baloch Youth (2010-11) and Burma Mohammadan (2011-12).

Whereas the PPFL follows a promotion/relegation model with teams from the second division, i.e., the PFF League (PFF-B) being promoted (bottom two of the PPFL are replaced by the top two in the PFF-B), given the large number of clubs in Karachi, the Karachi League essentially sees the top eight or so teams maintaining their places, whereas the remaining eight to 12 are nominated by the district associations of Karachi.

The Karachi League has seen a constant evolution to manage the demands of the associations as well as sponsors. Hence, initially having been launched as a 10-team single league event, for the last few seasons, it has featured 20 top Karachi clubs divided into two groups of 10 each with the top four in each group advancing to the Super League/Playoff stage. From these eight, the top four qualify for the semis and final and the league has become more akin to the MLS format than the European model.

Where the PPFL has been successful is that it has been able to maintain the same number of teams and the proper double league format. However, criticisms abound as regards the congested nature of the fixtures, with players sometimes being subjected to three games in five days.

The fact that PPFL essentially features department and armed forces teams has also meant that attendances are poor, with the best supported teams being the Balochistan clubs Afghan FC (Chaman), Baloch FC (Noshki) and Muslim FC. In stark contrast, the Karachi League, despite being essentially at the level of a third division, routinely attracts healthy audiences with the highlight being the 2008-09 final between Shahzad Mohammadan and Nazimabad FC where a huge crowd of over 18,000 witnessed proceedings at the KMC Stadium.

PFFThe playoff matches of that season’s Karachi League were also broadcast (recorded and not live) on TenSports. Last season’s final between eventual champions Burma Mohammadan FC and Karachi United FC saw a healthy crowd of 8,000 at the Baloch Mujahid Stadium.

While the average match bonuses and prize money of the PPFL is higher, the largest amount of prize money in a single event was handed out in the sixth edition of the Karachi League when the champions received Rs1 million and the overall prize money and bonuses were in excess of Rs4 million.

The PFF essentially cover the major operational costs of the PPFL and the teams pay their players as well as cover their travel costs. Since the Karachi League clubs are amateur outfits, the players are not pros and don’t ordinarily get paid. All costs are borne by the hosts Karachi United either themselves or through sponsors.

by Taha Alizai [founder of Karachi United Football Club and organiser of the Karachi League] for Dawn’s Images on Sunday magazine of 13 January 2013