‘Balochistan needs better football ecosystem’ [Express Tribune]

‘Balochistan needs better football ecosystem’ [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

QUETTA: Art is more or less a coping mechanism against bitter realities of life; in fact it is a survival skill, a skill necessary for the footballers of Balochistan, which also helped midfielder Yaqoob Khan win the last medal right before his father passed away.

‘My father had just passed away, but all I can say is that it was a great tournament for me and for my team that had most of the talented players from across Quetta, it was huge for us and I am proud of that bronze medal finish,” Yaqoob told The Express Tribune.

Yaqoob had been competing at the Ufone 4G Balochistan Football Cup, and their team had played exceptionally well until they met the formidable Muslim FC Chaman in the semi-finals.

Yaqoob’s Quetta Zorawar lost 3-1 in the semi-final on November 24, but the next day they came back stronger against a demure Zhob District Football Association team with four goals in the third-place match.

With the tournament focusing on non-departmental sides, it was clear that the bigger clubs would dominate the field, and for players like Yaqoob, that meant a healthy competition, as he puts Quetta’s football above Chaman’s.

The Police officer that he is, feels like football has been a need, for him to make sense of most things, while he has applied and took the exam for hawaldar post, the police constable explains that even his boss at work knows what football means to him.

“I have a 12-hour duty,’ said Yaqoob as he captained the Quetta Zorawar team that was also a DFA side.

“Of course it gets tiring, but I play football regularly, my bosses at work, they let me play in the evening and then I come back, it is something more than just a passion. I have been playing football ever since I can remember.”

Yaqoob explained that he is from Quetta’s neighbouring area called Kharotabad, a place where there is huge talent when it comes to football and has players from different ethnicities too, including Tajiks, Pakhtuns among others, and it has at least seven registered clubs besides others.

“It is a diverse place, I play for my home club Kharotabad FC and then I played for Police too for some time. The most jarring reality is that despite our talent and love for football we don’t have the resources or means to earn well through sports, and in general there is too much poverty around us,” said Yaqoob.

He added that the Zorawar team was formed for the tournament in less than a month, with the help of two coaches and had more than 120 players show up for the local trials to compete in the tournament.

Against Muslim FC too they played confidently, but he adds that the cold nights of November did not help with the dried out pitch, as their key goalkeeper had picked up an injury.

“I can say that we almost got Muslim FC in the semi-finals, it is just that our goalkeeper had a serious injury, and we were left with no choice, the dryness and the cold weather did affect us,” said Yaqoob.

He added that the spirit of Quetta footballers has been an inspiration to him as well, and finishing third on the stage was not bad for the circumstances that his team was in.

“I can say Muslim FC was lucky,” said Yaqoob. “If you look at the quality of football then Quetta is more skillful, in fact it had been a hub of football even before Pakistan got the independence, and I can say that if our players have better conditions that we can improve fast.

“Quetta was known as the small-Brazil too, and I have grown up watching it get worse,” said the 31-year-old.

Footballer cop, footballer teacher demand better future

His opponent from Zhob, Jahanzaib Khan agrees with Yaqoob, as his team would barely be recognized as players if they were not wearing their kits.

The school teacher that Jahanzaib is explains that majority of the football in Zhob is dominated by his local club Pak-Afghan FC and most of the players in the Zhob side were from the top two clubs of the city.

“Football helps, because even with this tournament it gave us that escape from how hard our lives are. I am a middle school teacher and I play football, I encourage my students to play as well, but the truth is these tournaments help a little bit with money too, most of our players are labourers and do odd jobs,” said Jahanzaib, another midfielder. He added that his team was also made for the tournament in a month’s time.

But like Jahanzaib, Yaqoob adds that at the end of the day the players and the youth of Balochistan need consistent tournaments and attention in terms of the infrastructure and facilities like even having floodlights in Ayub Stadium, because night tournaments seldom take place in the city, along with better pathways for the careers.

Yaqoob is asking for a better football ecosystem altogether that can help the youth hone their footballing talent.

The footballers play football every day regardless of what their day jobs are, like Yaqoob, who trains each day, and plays too.

“I can tell that we need the Pakistan Football Federation to do more, it is banned right now by Fifa, but we are losing out on opportunities especially for the Balochistan youth. Playing locally too I can tell that we had dominated other cities a lot on a divisional level, but it is the lack of interest from the authorities that is hurting us, four years gone to waste with the ban too, wouldn’t we love to see our players represent Pakistan internationally, of course we would, but it seems that is not going to happen any time soon. However, we keep playing the way we do.”

Published in The Express Tribune, 10 December 2021