In Ramzan tournament final, a local team shows grit against Army but wilts and falls apart [Dawn]

In Ramzan tournament final, a local team shows grit against Army but wilts and falls apart [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: Madhu Mohammadan were in dreamland; soaring in the cool breeze blowing across the Naya Nazimabad Football Stadium.

A lovely dinked finish from former Pakistan under-15 international Shah Jahan after a sensational one-two had given Madhu, a local club from Karachi’s district east, an early lead against their more illustrious rivals Pakistan Army in the Ramzan tournament final on Tuesday night.

Now, it was a question of holding on to that priceless lead.

But as Tuesday turned to Wednesday, the midnight magic shifted things Army’s way. Madhu’s Cinderella story wasn’t going to reach its perfect, desired climax. Their supporters, who’d gathered in large numbers sitting close to the touchline, unable to celebrate what would’ve been a famous upset.

Army won 3-1 in the end, the Pakistan Premier Football League side showing their credentials against a team way below them in the rungs of the country’s football pyramid.

Shah Jahan was in tears. The club has won some trophies but this was going to be the biggest. The Naya Nazimabad Ramzan Cup had seen some of Sindh’s top clubs participate. Army had come all the way from Rawalpindi to take part in it. Winning a tournament like this would’ve meant a great deal to Madhu. But when it mattered most, they wilted and fell apart.

As Pakistan’s suspension from FIFA drags on, football in the country is falling apart. Private tournaments like these are keeping it alive. The change of government means there is no clear future. The previous one wanted to close down departmental sports — meaning teams like Army would not have their sports teams — and shift to a regional system. It would’ve probably seen clubs thriving; in a system that works all over the world. But at this point in time, there remains no clarity.

Pakistan will have difficulty changing its departmental sporting structure that has been in existence since its independence. It’s fairly evident why when clubs like Madhu, who for a long spell were equal with Army, feel that the departmental system needs to be restored.

“Without the departments, we have no future,” Madhu coach Zahid Hussain told Dawn after the final. “It’s difficult to have a club functioning without a sponsor but for any emerging player, the department is the next step where at least he or she can have a safe financial future.”

Karachi alone has around 100 clubs which still function thanks to support from their owners and supporters. Madhu have been able to survive thanks to their stadium which was renovated by the Sindh government. With the turf laid, the club rents out its facilities to get some much-needed funding.

“But it’s still not enough to raise a top side which can compete in the PPFL,” said Zahid.

It’s one of the reasons why Army coach Jaffar Khan, a former Pakistan international goalkeeper, feels that the departmental sports structure needs to be restored.

“We hope that the new government restores the departmental system sooner rather than later … that’s how it has been over the years,” Jaffar told Dawn after seeing his side level matters in the first minute of the second half before going onto win with two goals in the space of four minutes from the 76th. “We just want to play football and when we heard about the Ramzan Cup, we decided to come and compete.”

For now, with the Pakistan Football Federation still in limbo, players and teams have had to make do with unregulated tournaments which have thrown a myriad of other issues. A match of the Ramadan Cup was fixed and the team was thrown out. Last month, the Sindh Super League organised by the Sindh government had its matches in the scorching summer heat of Karachi. There was also an age fraud case in the Standard Chartered Karachi United Youth League in Islamabad.

Last year, the PPFL season organised by the PFF of Ashfaq Hussain Shah, which is not recognised by FIFA, came to an abrupt close when they were forced to vacate the PFF headquarters by the Punjab government. Ashfaq and his group of officials, who were elected in polls held by the Supreme Court in December 2018, had taken over the headquarters from the FIFA-appointed PFF Normalisation Committee, which brought upon the suspension from the world’s football governing body.

The PFF NC is back in office but the suspension will remain till it regains control of its bank accounts. It had given the previous government an eight-month roadmap to hold fresh elections of the PFF once all the pre-requisite conditions for the lifting of the FIFA ban are met. With a case regarding the bank accounts being contested in the Lahore High Court, there is no timeline for when football will begin under the banner of the PFF.

That also means that for players like Shah Jahan — who told Dawn that he aspires to play football in Europe one day, their dreams remains distant as ever.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2022