by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Football is a powerful sport; it brings together people of all ilk; regardless of class, religion and race.
11-year-old Arbaaz Khan is one of the many who has fallen in love with the sport yet found it out of his reach due to his humble background. For a few months, young Arbaaz, whose father is a labourer, often came and watched the players at Diya FC training at a ground in Clifton. Now, at exactly four, he arrives at the same ground along with his sister and friends to play alongside them.
Diya FC were one of the pioneers of women’s football in the country, and they continue to bring many under football’s umbrella who would otherwise find the sport out of their reach.
Arbaaz’s sister, Haseena, is nine and as far as he is considered, she is a prodigy of the highest order. “Just put a football in front of her,” says Arbaaz. “She really knows how to play.”
And play she does, showcasing natural control with her small legs and a knack for dribbling that many twice her age would be proud of.
“I brought my friends too,” Arbaaz said, pointing Amir, Salman Muhammad Raaz and the eight-year-old Bashir. “For a very long time, we used to sit here, watching them play football. It seemed great. Then I played with them and realised I could run with the ball. I thought my friends could learn it too so that we can all play together. Then I taught it to Haseena so that we can practice at home but my parents don’t know that she is playing football.”
And so through Arbaaz an entire army of young children have been introduced to football. But it is understandably his sister who he is most proud of — showcasing more confidence in her abilities than in his own. Neither have ever owned a pair of football shoes and instead play barefoot.
“These two have raw talent,” says Sadia Sheikh, founder of Diya FC and Sindh Women Football Association head. “Haseena and Arbaaz have natural ability and I took them in mainly thinking of the future, because we need players who have nothing to lose and all to gain from football. “They are young so they learn quickly and we’ll be getting them kits and proper gear soon since they play barefoot even on a fields filled with dirt, rock and thorns.”
But not everyone is happy with the class-intermingling at Diya FC.
“There were a few parents who would say they didn’t want their children playing alongside the likes of Arbaaz and Haseena, or Haseena’s friend Gulnaz,” said Shiekh. “But then on the other hand we have these amazing older players who would encourage Arbaaz and Haseena to be a part of the game. Even when they didn’t play, it was so motivating to see them watching us.”
The youngsters are not the only ones hailing from a humble background. 17-year-old Muhammad Shoaib drives a rickshaw in the morning to support his family. In the evening he brings girls of his neighbourhood in the same rickshaw to train at Diya.
“I was playing a club in Korangi but then they would force us to choose a political party and I wasn’t interested in that,” said Shoaib. “I wanted a way out of that system and found out about Diya as the girls from our area would usually look for a rickshaw ride to training. I discovered them while at work, and now I just bring them to practice since we all want to have a career in sports.”
If he isn’t able to make it as a player, Shoaib wants to become a coach, being inspired by Diya’s female forward Kiran Karim.
From clubs to provinces
Sheikh feels recruiting players in clubs helps both the players and the clubs as well as the provincial sides.
“The players get jobs from departments if they have played for Sindh so the reward for them is greater,” she said. “The provincial side should be open for any child who wants to play. Hopefully we’ll soon see results similar to the Sindh women’s team winning the gold medal at national youth games earlier this year.”