Football dreams, soon to be bulldozed over [Express Tribune]

Football dreams, soon to be bulldozed over [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

KARACHI: “I can tell at least five to six of our players will have to see their homes go down, and all we are trying to do is stand with these players and trying to help as much as we can. We will also see our home ground for Young Muslim Football Club to be taken away by the authorities too, so what can we do,” asks the coach and manager Muhammad Zakir Khan, who is not only a witness to seeing football grounds going extinct in Karachi, but also a man who is trying to live the moto of ‘you will never walk alone’ of Liverpool FC way before he found out about the humanity that football brings.

Khan’s players, at least five of them and their families are facing the eviction from Orangi Nulla and Gujjar Nulla areas due to the verdict by the Supreme Court that came on Monday that the localities are over the streams and therefore they must be cleared out. Meanwhile, the residents have been protesting that they have lived on the land that they bought and now suddenly their house are being demolished by the government and the authorities are leaving them nowhere to go.

The home ground for Young Muslim FC, which was founded in 1978 is also a part where the National Logistics Cell have taken the land and have told the people that it will be gone, and Khan, now 52, believes that just the sheer neglect and lack of awareness among the authorities is disheartening and also dangerous.

“This Supreme Court ruling is affecting us. My players are going to be homeless. Then we see our home ground that should be nurtured gone too, as if in the last seven years we haven’t suffered enough. At first, the Sindh government took a part of our Ground in Orangi Town for Orange Line Metro Bus and told us that there is nothing we can do. Now the NLC has our ground with their equipment and everything. It will be gone too. We have only suffered and our players now only train at a small training ground in Ibrahim Ali Bhai Government School, where the area only allow us to train at least 15-20 players at a time. It is destroying our community the way they are taking away our grounds, the way we have to see our players go homeless now without any sign that there is any alternative given to us by the government,”  Khan explained the situation at hand to The Express Tribune.

He has also been a part of Karachi United sending their community coaches for the Standard Chartered Liverpool FC coaches training in Dubai last year and that experience has given him confidence that his decision to dedicate his life to football has not been wrong.

Khan’s own story is compelling and also a perfect simile to how the transformation of a community happens if sports become a part of it even if that meant he had to rebel against his father at the age of 14.

“They don’t understand the depth behind this one simple saying that in a country where there are sports facilities and grounds getting nurtured, the hospitals tend to be less burdened with the duties,” said Khan.

“I myself have been a product of a government school and the man who founded Young Muslim FC was Abdul Hamid. He was such a great coach and a leader and a principal at the school. He gave me the understanding that sports can change lives when I was just 14 years old.”

Khan said that the history of Young Muslim FC is rich and the club has been one of the most consistent outfits in Karachi’s football landscape, with his players even competing for different teams in the National Women’s Championship too, which took place earlier this year. The event saw a distressing fate when it was cancelled due to Ashfaq Hussain Shah group forcefully taking over the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) headquarters in Lahore, after throwing out the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee head Haroon Malik from the premises and taking control of the affairs that led to Fifa suspending Pakistan.

“There is politics on every level, but mostly they forget what impact sports have on communities like mine. I use to play hockey, I was very good at it, we even made a great team too in our locality, but we had to give it up because there were no hockey grounds and facilities,” said Khan.

The spectre of no ground that forced Khan to give up the primary sport he loved come back to plague again as an adult too.

“I had to give up hockey, but I was sure that I wanted to play something which allowed me to just run, and football was perfect. My friends got me into the sport, my own brother played football too and so did my uncle. I was picked by Hamid after I played my first event when I was 14.

“Hamid just asked me to join the team despite my father being against it because in our locality the children are prone to getting into drugs, beetle addictions and smoking and if I stayed in bad company what would become of me, but my brother helped. Later Hamid told me that I can either chose to leave because of the fear that I may be ruined or I may get an opportunity to influence others by example, and that changed the way I looked at sports.

“Later I told my father that I wanted to make him proud not just as a footballer but as a human being, and sports will allow me to do that. From then on wards I played as a defender. I don’t know whether I was that good, but Hamid made everything feel so good about sports,” said Khan.

Today, Khan’s youth side will be playing in one local event in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, while his senior team is playing in two different tournaments, qualified in second and third rounds.

Young Muslim FC has 30-35 players who are girls and Khan is mostly working with them because it had allowed many to come out of the houses and become a force to be reckoned with on the field. However, with Covid-19, his younger players have gone a little astray.

He added that in Under-eight to U10 there are around 20 players, while in U14 till U19 there are 40 players in the youth teams, whereas the senior team is a full-strength group of players.

He added that the club is run on self-help basis and this month alone, because of the events, the budget is going up to Rs70,000 to Rs80,000, which is difficult to manage but the club will try to arrange it.

However, with the how to go on, Khan is concerned about the ground and facilities and the on-going eviction in his locality that he fears will be affecting the club strongly as well as the Orangi Town locality that has at least 19 registered clubs. “We just want things to be just. We just need to be able to survive. That is what we are asking for, as a club, as a sports community and as humans.”

Published in The Express Tribune, 14 June 2021