by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: “I know we’ll do our best, but I think some of us will be playing for Shahlyla,” Sahar Zaman, Pakistan’s key midfielder shared her thoughts on her friend and fellow teammate the late Shahlyla Baloch, as she, along with the rest of the Pakistani team will begin their campaign at the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship in Nepal on September 7.
It has been difficult, almost impossible to start the coverage on Pakistan women’s football team, as they return to international football after eight years without celebrating one of the brightest stars that the country had offered – Shahlyla.
Shahlyla was 20 when she passed away in 2016. She played for Balochistan United in Pakistan and Sun Hotels and Resorts. She played for the Pakistan team from 2010 till 2014.
Next month will be exactly six years since she left her loved ones behind. That is six years out of the eight long years that her friends and teammates have seen without international football and, at times, without even national events.
The women’s national team will be playing their first match since 2014, a group match in the Saff Championship that took place in Islamabad.
Shahlyla was one of the goal-scorers in the last match that the country played before the ever long eight years of no action for women footballers in international arena.
Sahar has been a force to be reckoned with in the National Championships for Wapda. She was also one of the players who scored for Pakistan in the 2014 championship in the same match as Shahlyla. She recalled how each of them, including star forward Hajra Khan and now vice-captain Malika-e-Noor had decided to do attan (a traditional dance) each time any of the girls in green scored.
“This is something, me and Hajra especially, we try not to talk about it, because it’ll hurt us again. This is the first time ever that we are in a championship where we don’t have her,” Sahar told The Express Tribune from Nepal.
She reminisced on the 2014 Saff Championship and how difficult it had been to see the announcement for the camp probables first in July that came with a sharp pain of knowing that Shahlyla has passed on.
“I was telling Hajra as well when we joined the camp that every single place, everything on the airport, layover, packages, in the rooms would remind me of her and we were like, if Shahlyla was here, she would do this, she used to do this and this used to happen, that used to happen. I hope she is somewhere up there sending good vibes to us and praying for us and we are praying for her. Whatever happens I know we’ll do our best but I think some of us will be playing for her. She was was my first friend in football, specifically outside my team.”
Sahar remembered how Shahlyla helped her and became her friend.
“The first camp I went to, I remember her mother calling Shahlyla. I was alone in the camp because I was the only one who got selected for the national camp from my team. So her mother called her, she came, she was jumping around, and her mother told her, ‘Shahlyla, Sahar is alone and she is your responsibility, you have to take care of her’, and from that day, she held my hand then till 2014,” said Sahar.
The idea behind this article and remembering Shahlyla is to celebrate her as a player and her legacy.
Shahlyla’s performances have been etched in the minds of her friends, her teammates and her family.
She was the first Pakistani player to ever score a hat-trick in international club football when she was playing in Maldives.
“That is exactly what we can do for her, [celebrate her]. I even have this little serum with me which has a scent that was Shahlyla’s. You know to keep her to close me. I wear it whenever I have time and I feel her closer to us, with the team. If only she could have stayed with us for some more time. She left us very soon.
“I think she will never be forgotten from anyone’s heart, especially the ones who she has played with and stayed with in the camps. I’m telling you she was the most mischievous. She used to run away with people’s shoes and she would tie the laces of shoes from the different pairs together. When people would get up in the morning, they would have to untie the strong knots on the laces that she had tied. The things she did were so amazing that a person used to enjoy her company,” said Sahar.
A lot has changed in the eight years, many players have changed their careers, the Pakistan women’s football has been hurt as most players left it as they chose another career in life.
The Pakistan women’s team made their international debut in 2010 at the Saff Championship. It is the only tournament they have played so far along with friendlies abroad for the preparations in 2014.
All the dreams of the women footballers were shattered due to the infighting among the Pakistan Football Federation officials and it only grew uglier. It has gotten the country banned twice since 2015 due to the third-party interference.
The second ban lasted for almost 15 months and FIFA resumed the PFF’s membership in June, after which the federation that has been run by a FIFA-installed Normalisation Committee headed by Haroon Malik since January 2021. Prior to him two others headed the NC with different formation. Since the resumption the PFF NC decided to field the women’s team at the Saff Championship.