by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Usman Ali is the name of the footballer that Pakistanis should know this month. Pakistanis at least should be able to talk about or at least feel for the 27-year-old, after he passed away on Sunday evening while experiencing a heart attack during the match for his club Young Rasheedabad FC in Karachi’s famous Gabol Park in the footballing heart of Lyari.
“Footballers are one for the most neglected and oppressed,” says Young Rasheedabad FC president Mir Alam as he witnessed his star defender Usman Ali lose his live by the second during a match. It was eventually found out that Usman had a heart attack. .
“We are the oppressed and neglected segment of the society and Usman has become another footballer who lost his life because we had no medical help. The government does not care and the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) does not even properly work for us because they are rotten with politics. There were no ambulances, as usual, since the football tournaments are often organised for the people by the people on self-help basis. We still play because football gives us life, however, no one cares about us,” Alam told The Express Tribune.
The Pakistanis felt for the Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen as he collapsed on the field during the Euro 2020 match against Finland on May 25. The debate arose internationally as to what immediate medical help meant for footballers, but nothing of that sort was there for Usman.
Usman was two years younger than Eriksen. He was playing for Young Rasheedabad FC since he was a child, and the defender was someone who looked after others in time of need as Alam described him.
Young Rasheedabad FC’s Usman or the players of his club, or his family would never receive even an iota of the care that Eriksen received, let alone the concern for life, because ultimately the playing field is not equal. “Our player was dying and no one came to ask about how he died. The government of course wouldn’t care, no one does. But we play on self-help basis and no government officials or even the provincial football officials or anyone have still come to us to ask about Usman’s death. Where are we going to get the medical staff on the ground or just the first aid even, as he was gone in few seconds,” explained Alam.
The match between Young Rasheedabad FC and Lal Baksh Memorial FC began at 4:30pm on Sunday and Alam said that he had taken the team along with the officials from Baldia Town to Lyari to compete in the tournament. The team lost the match that day 3-1 to the opponents and Usman had stayed on the edge of the ground just to finish the match for the final whistle to blow while feeling restless and almost collapsing during the second half.
“These tournaments have a 30-minute half, so Usman started to complain about feeling unwell almost towards the end of the match, maybe the 22nd minute of the half or so. We had to ask him to stand on the side and let it finish while he was feeling really ill. He vomited afterwards and I took him to the clinic where he was given the treatment. He said he felt better but dizzy. He was still vomiting and then when I was took him to the hospital within six to seven minutes on the way he passed away.
We found out later in the hospital that it was a cardiac arrest and he was pronounced dead. He was telling me he was feeling pain in the left hand. The truth is no one even came to us when Usman was feeling unwell on the pitch. There was no medical help on the ground, no ambulance, and usually there isn’t because these are all local tournaments without any supervision or help from the government or the PFF or just the fact that there are no proper sponsorships for football tournaments at local level. So, we lost Usman that day,” said Alam. “It is about the resources, we at local tournaments don’t have that. It is about money.”
“But we know now that Usman is not the first player to pass away this way, and there are many players who have suffered before because of the lack of the medical facilities. Do they even care about the lives, even at the top most level in Pakistan?” asked Alam, adding that even the national level events don’t have these basic protocols in place.
Alam said that the contributing factors to the death could be the heat in Karachi and then the fact that the medical help was not readily available.
“We’ve lost a family member,” Alam spoke of Usman who was also working in police for his day job and have left behind two very young daughters, first being little less than two years of age and the second daughter being a few months old.
Usman had only gotten married three years ago, while his younger brother Sajjad also plays for Young Rasheedabad FC, the club that has been in existence for more than 30 years. The club hosts children from Rasheedabad, a locality in Baldia Town. The club has a full team of 33 to 36 players all registered and then the younger players in youth sides.
“Usman was the sort of a boy who was friendly, loved his teammates and helped them. He sometimes took care of small expenses for them or for the club because he got a job for police. He was too young and too beautiful inside and out to depart this soon. He was also very good with the players from different other clubs in our district and the community loved him. He had only gotten married just three years ago, the whole family is a part of our club, and we are still in shock that he is gone.”
Alam remembered that Usman had been instrumental on the pitch and loved to watch Real Madrid, Barcelona FC, and Cristiano Ronaldo was his favourite player.
“If I think about the most significant memory, then all I can say right now is that each second spent with him was precious. He came to us when he was just a kid. He had been with us for more than 12 years in the team and more than 17 years just as a player. Each second I feel had been a blessing and precious. I can’t just say one memory is great, every time he was around, it was great because he made people laugh, he was cheerful most of the time, and that is his legacy,” said Alam.
Clubs like Young Rasheedabad FC and many others are running on money generated among the players through donations mostly. For Usman’s club the sponsors are not there and Alam explained that playing one match can cost up to Rs6,000 to Rs7.000 given each player of the team gets at least Rs500 as a reward for playing. Alam is on point when he says it is about the resources that the clubs do not have, but still play the sport that they love and live for it as a community.