Football, Balochistan and hope [Express Tribune]

Football, Balochistan and hope [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

KARACHI: Do stars look brighter in the colder nights? They certainly did over Ayub Stadium, surrounded by mountains, for footballers playing the Ufone 4G Balochistan Football Cup finals in the last week of November.

In Balochistan football is more than a sport, it is a need, and much like a metaphor for the stars, it certainly represents hope.

In the final of the tournament, Muslim FC lifted the trophy for the Balochistan leg of the event and it came as no surprise, despite Quetta teams Baloch FC and Quetta Zorawar finishing second and third respectively.

In a stadium, with the spectators warming themselves up by makeshift fire pots in the winter night, they were also cherishing an escape from the harsh realities of life. With dire circumstances for most footballers in the province and working-class fans, football is a form of healing.

“I’ve come here to witness the tournament from Pishin,” said Muhammad Umer, an employee of National Bank from the public stands. “It is a night we get to really be with our brothers, our friends. It is necessary because that is just how we feel about our football.”

Muslim FC had been a dominant force in Balochistan football and even at the national circuit, as they have been one of the feeder clubs for the departmental teams over the years.

Muslim FC, who are preparing for another round of matches to compete against the winners of the Khyber-Paktunkhwa leg of the event, did show their mental and physical toughness when they outplayed one of country’s oldest clubs Baloch FC Quetta 2-0 in the final.

“It had been a great tournament for us,” Muslim FC coach Qadeer Khan told The Express Tribune, as playing under floodlights was something his team have experienced in. “The tournament has given us a good chance to continue with football as we have seen that the Pakistan Premier Football League has been stopped because of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) political affairs.

“This meant a lot of our players. We don’t want to sit idle and this is a good place to bring our talent to. Quetta is always a good venue.”

Qadeer added that the tournament had made a good effort by promoting the club teams and not the departmental sides. “The organisers had told us that they wanted the clubs to come forward and I’m glad that we keep our dominance in every way,” explained Qadeer, appreciating the fact that many fans came to watch the brand of football that Muslim FC had to offer, which is fast and aggressive.

“There are Muslim FC fans everywhere, and we wanted to give a good show,” said Qadeer while pointing out that Muhammad Hanif had been the top-scorer the team in the tournament, including the two goals in the final. They had been playing football at the top level and trained for the tournaments ahead, starting with the PPFL for four months.

They took Rs300,000 as the winners, while runners-up Baloch FC President Imran Baloch feels that the home teams gave a good competition to the Chaman team.

Quetta needs promotion, money

A former player himself, Imran believes that the culture that Quetta has to offer is rich when it comes to football even among the cities in Balochistan.

“Quetta is a serious contender in being the top football places in Pakistan, but unlike Chaman, we feel that Quetta is not getting the money or the promotion for the clubs,” said Imran.

He became the manager and the president of the club, once his father who had been running it for generations stepped back.

“The history of my club goes back to the time of the British Raj, in 1940s,” said Imran. “This is what Quetta represents too. It had been a hub of football, producing many players including politicians too who have played in this club.

“We have given tough competition to the Chaman-based clubs too, in fact in my time alone since 2000s,we have more than 100 trophies that we have won. The only issue is that now Chaman clubs get more promotion and even money coming their way compared to the clubs in Quetta.

“We have been struggling as we are running it on self-help basis, and one of the greatest issues we see is poverty and unemployment.

“Even now there were many players from my club have to struggle to just earn. But through football, they get opportunities to play and be picked up for the departmental teams. That has been the biggest role for me, for us, because we need to change the lives of the players, of these footballers in Quetta and Balochistan.”

Imran added that in Quetta there is a need for consistent support.

“The solution is to have sponsors to be consistent and have these tournaments consistently,” said Imran, whose team is also playing in the PPFL this year after getting promotion from division B league last year.

Published in The Express Tribune, 5 December 2021