Garlands, dhols, entire neighbourhoods itching to welcome bronze-winning street footballers home [Express Tribune]

Garlands, dhols, entire neighbourhoods itching to welcome bronze-winning street footballers home [Express Tribune]

Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune

KARACHI: “I’m glad that Meher didn’t listen to me a lot,” recalls a jubilant Aziza, mother of the teenaged Meher Ali just hours before he is set to return to his home in Ibrahim Hyderi with a bronze-medal that he and the rest of the Pakistani team had earned at the Street Child World Cup that ended in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

“I had always stopped him from going outside too much, but he would just sneak out of the house to play football. I’m happy that he didn’t listen to me,” she says, adding that all she wants to do now is just hold Meher.

Son of a fisherman in Baloch para area of Ibrahim Hyderi, Meher made a name for himself when he scored a brace in their match against India in Rio. Though Pakistan went on to rout their traditional rivals 13-0, Meher had an instant impact.

“We are poor people, we don’t have much, but Meher has made me so proud. People in my Mohalla (neighbourhood) are just walking up to me and congratulating me. I’m just amazed that Meher has made so many people proud. My son has brought joy to so many people,” a teary eyed Aziza said.

“I couldn’t stop crying when I saw Meher on the television,” Aziza tells The Express Tribune. “I never knew that my son would become so popular.  I saw his picture on the television and I couldn’t believe that it was Meher.  I’m happy and I’m crying at the same time.”

Recalling the early exploits of Meher, before he showed his skills in Rio, Aziza says her son always wanted to go to Brazil and play. “When he was very young, he used to say that he will go to Brazil to play football someday, and I’m amazed at how everything worked out for him.”

Aziza adds that all her son ever did was either to into the sea to fish or play football. “Hopefully he’ll get to play more football, because going into the sea is always dangerous.”

When Meher returns early on Tuesday, Ibrahim Hyderi is expected to celebrate his homecoming. Neighbours have arranged garlands. “My neighbours have also arranged for dhols. They want Meher to feel proud as well. Some of them are also distributing Mithai (sweets) in our area to celebrate the team’s home-coming.”

Across town in Manghopir, Meher’s fellow player Rajab Ali too can look forward to meeting his excited family. Rajab’s elder brother Qurban Ali says that he is overwhelmed by Rajab’s achievement.

“Obviously we are very happy, but it’s still a shock. Rajab has always loved to play football.”

About the arrangements they have made to welcome him home, Qurban says “We are all very excited about his return to home. Our friends have brought a bus so that the whole neighborhood can go and welcome him at the airport.”

The teenagers, who endured a hard time to just get to Rio, let alone play in the tournament, have managed to capture the hearts and imagination of the nation. Though they lost out in the semi-final against Burundi, they managed to win against the US in the play-off for the third place and earned a bronze medal.