Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
Pakistan and Lebanon have only locked horns twice in International football. And that 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifier spread over two games resulted in 6-0 and 8-1 thrashings respectively for the Pak Shaheens. Nobody bothered with the results, except a 13-year-old Pakistani in Germany called Malik Riaz Hai Naveed.
Malik, a keen football fan and loyal to his homeland, was switching through channels at home in Neuss when suddenly highlights of Pakistan’s loss against Lebanon immediately caught his attention.
While the video was brief, it made a lasting impact on Malik.
“As a 13-year-old living in Neuss, Germany in 2001, I was really surprised when I saw highlights of Pakistan’s 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Lebanon on Euro Sport. That is was my first interaction with Pakistani football and I was immediately hooked,” said the ecstatic Malik Riaz Hai Naveed, now known as part of the ‘.com wala log’ in Pakistani football circles.
Pumped after seeing the Shaheens perform on the International stage, Malik utilized his spare time in a quest to know more about the team, but what he saw shocked him.
“I didn’t have Internet at home then, so I went to cafes and ‘Googled’ around, only to find articles and pictures related to child labour and football products when I searched for Pakistani football. I thought we have a National Team and there is no information about them,” he claims.
Instead of moving on and forgetting the ordeal, Malik made a decision that has affected Pakistani football immensely. He started reporting and covering various results of the National Team after reading them online, before eventually deciding to setup a website dedicated to Pakistani football.
“So I started following Pakistani newspapers such as Jang and DAWN, and using them I provided results to Rsssf.com. But after a while, I came up with the idea of making a website dedicated to Pakistani football and that’s where FPDC came into being, with the original website called www.pakistanifootball.cjb.net.”
Although the initial days were tough, a surprise email helped Malik get in touch with local authorities in Pakistan when IFA official Sharafat Bukhari contacted him and offered support in his quest.
“I wrote about matches and National championships, mainly gathering information from Jang, DAWN and the Nation. Soon after Islamabad Football Association (IFA) official Sharafat Bukhari got in touch with me via email and provided me with scanned newspapers for even more regular information on Pakistani football.”
The result was immediate and as more and more people began to take notice of the site, a technology expert called ‘Ifti’ got in touch with Malik and offered to build him a professional website along with a proper domain.
“Later after the views to the website began to increase, Iftikhar ‘Ifti’ Younus, an IT specialist contacted me about improving the website design and getting a proper domain. I wasn’t interested then, but after a couple of months, I got in touch with Ifti again and we launched FootballPakistan.com in 2003.”
With a permanent home and added features, Malik’s pet project soon grew into something special and was joined by fellow die-hard fans that pledged their support to Pakistani football.
“The launching of the website had many advantages, but the most important contribution was the forum. The forum was the heart and soul of the website before we integrated with Facebook and it attracted our key personnel including Ali Ahsan (Former Chief Editor and Forum Moderator) in 2003 and later Mohammad Shahnawaz (Director and Chief Scout) in 2006.”
Meanwhile back in Pakistan, Faisal Saleh Hayat took over the PFF and made wholesome changes to the system which coupled with Pakistan’s triumph in the SAF games meant that Malik and his new staff saw victory for the first time.
“With a dedicated staff, we began unprecedented coverage with more reports, insider information and increasing number of news. Our website was growing and so were our aims. In 2004, the new PFF regime launched the Pakistan Premier League and the National Team won gold at the SAF Games, so we devoted ourselves even more for the development of Pakistani football,” he added.
As part of that commitment, Malik began searching for Pakistani talent abroad and his efforts paid off after he convinced Leicester City’s youth player Usman Gondal to play for Pakistan in the 2005 Indo-Pak series at home.
“This was also the year that FPDC made its biggest contribution to Pakistani football; scouting foreign-based players. Usman Gondal of Leicester City was scouted and sent to the National Team in 2004, followed shortly by English Premier League and Fulham player Zesh Rehman in 2005.”
“Following Zesh’s success, we made it a priority to scout foreign-based Pakistanis and continued to do so in the coming years with Atif Bashir (Barry Town, Welsh 1st Division), Adnan Ahmed (Huddersfield Town, Championship) and Amjad Iqbal (Farsley Celtic, Conference Premier) making their debuts for Pakistan by 2008,” said an ecstatic Malik as he reminiscence about the bitter-sweet past.
It’s been a wild ride for FPDC since its inception and that Lebanon game started it all. Here’s hoping we get a better result against them after 13 years when we play them in Beirut on the 19th of February 2014.