by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: There was no shortage of support as Muslim Trading FC opened their campaign at the Naya Nazimabad Quaid-i-Azam Departmental Football Tournament here on Friday. The Chaman-based team had more people cheering for them than their opponents, who had local players in their line-up.
Each Muslim Trading attack roused a sense of anticipation and expectation amongst the crowd at the KMC Stadium. A roar would build and die down with every missed chance. It only reached its crescendo twice. The crowd’s favourite team scored only twice.
“They should’ve scored more but we’re happy,” said Mohammad Nafay, who closed his shop in the nearby flea market to see the team from his hometown play.
Friday’s crowd was the biggest of the 14-team tournament, which began last week, has seen so far. Half of the stadium was full as Muslim Trading eased past Sindh Government Press (SGP) 2-0.
“The stadium would’ve been full to the brim if Muslim Trading’s match against Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA) would’ve gone ahead,” Nafay added, referring to PACA’s withdrawal on the eve of the tournament.
That match was being billed as the game of the group stage but former Pakistan playmaker Mohammad Essa did not come to Karachi with his PACA team for political reasons.
The withdrawal meant that the dispute within the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), which has virtually brought football to a standstill in the country, spilled into the tournament.
Essa has been supporting Faisal Saleh Hayat, the president of the PFF recognised by global football body FIFA, while this tournament, although organised privately, has the blessings of the PFF administrator appointed by the Lahore High Court, who FIFA doesn’t approve of and therefore banned Pakistan last month for what it termed ‘third-party interference’.
The administrator was appointed by the court after a full blown dispute in the PFF in the run-up to its presidential election in June 2015, which saw it break into two factions.
The Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) and the second-division Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL) haven’t taken place since the 2014-15 editions. A few national-level tournaments have been organised since while the Hayat faction went to court to stop the administrator from holding football events.
Football and footballers in the country are surviving thanks to these privately arranged tournaments.
Essa had vowed to keep football going in the country and “save footballers from losing their livelihood” when he announced the formation of a players association last year and yet he even tried to stop Muslim Trading from taking part in the tournament.
“There were forces trying to stop us from playing in this tournament,” Muslim Trading captain Abdul Qadeer told Dawn. “But we’ve come here for football and since a number of our fellow PPFL teams are taking part.”
Qadeer certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed by the response his team received in their opening match.
So popular is his team amongst the people from Chaman who are settled in Karachi and run their business in the country’s biggest city that a huge crowd gathered around their bench at half-time, the people eager to get a glimpse of their stars.
“We’re seeing them play after a long time so it’s only natural that we want to get close to them,” said Malik, who sells electronic goods and had also closed his shop to watch Muslim Trading play.
There is no doubt though who the fans wanted to get closest to. Former Pakistan international Hayatullah is Muslim Trading’s undisputed star.
Even though age has caught up with the attacker, who’s claim to fame is his stunning long-range goals, Hayatullah is the most sought-after player for ‘selfies’.
The only disappointment for the fans was that Hayatullah didn’t score on Friday — Muslim Trading’s goals came from Tahir just before the hour mark and Hikmat in injury-time.
“He will score in the next match,” said Nafay. “And we will be here [at the KMC Stadium] to see it.”
The people from Chaman settled in Karachi have certainly missed watching their favourite team and player play. Presented with an opportunity to see them again thanks to the Naya Nazimabad Quaid-i-Azam Departmental Football Tournament, they’re making sure they don’t miss any minute of it.