by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: “But what will happen for Balochistan?” asks Abdul Qadeer, former Pakistan national football team player from Chaman and the current coach of the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) outfit Muslim FC.
While the football followers are all gaga about the recently announced Pakistan Football League, who have announced former England captain and international star Michael Owen as the global ambassador, Qadeer, who has played football for more than half of his life and has been coaching one of the most fascinating clubs in the country, feels there is not much hope for the footballers of his part of the country.
The 42-year-old’s only dream is to have a decent future for the players of Muslim FC in Chaman and for Balochistan, where football is played the most.
“This league will have six teams only and I don’t think this is will prove to be very beneficial for us. In Pakistan, we can have more city teams playing in the event.
“We have leagues like the PPFL, then tournaments like Challenge Cup and Chief Minister Balochistan Cup that has been happening for the last two year. However, we need Pakistan Premier Football League to be there in place for football to really thrive with more teams in the mix.”
Reflection of individuals and communities
Muslim FC’s role and history is as interesting as the geography of the region Chaman being at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and football being the passion for people and not merely a sport.
Qadeer’s life is closely knitted with the fate of Muslim FC and his career has proven it to be so.
Qadeer said Muslim FC has been an entity since 1994-95. He has seen it evolve and become stronger while playing for it. Qadeer has played for Pakistan in 2001, 2002 and 2003 as a midfielder first and later as a defender.
He has grown up playing football for Muslim FC in Chaman till 2003, but later went on to play for departmental sides Allied Bank (2004-2006) and then Habib Bank (2006-2009). He came full circle in his career then and returned to Muslim FC, his home club. He played for them in Division B league to ultimately take his side into the PPFL in 2010.
“I have seen the best Pakistani football can offer to a player. I later went on to play for these departmental sides, but I came back to see Muslim FC thrive. Muslim FC has had such a great history of producing players and Chaman has given many good players to Pakistan,” said Qadeer.
He played for Muslim FC till 2019 and almost quit the sport two years ago after picking a knee injury. He then decided to coach the team, also earning a license to do so, he said, but mostly because he is the only one left now to keep the momentum going for his players and his side.
“I try to organise tournaments too, like the one we are already playing in Quetta’s Ayub Stadium. I try to keep the side together,” he said, while working on the border that he was at during the conversation.
“We have given good amount of international players. In fact, after my knee operation, I thought maybe we should quit but then football is such a big thing in Chaman, we have the crowd and the followers and they insisted that we should carry on, and they will support us with funding the team too. So I did.”
He admits that after all, Muslim FC is a feeder club of sorts. “We have international footballers among us too. Even today we have players who go on to play for departments like Sui Southern Gas Company, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and Pakistan Police. Muslim FC is a platform for the footballers to get highlighted from, like my older brother Hayatullah, Saeed Ahmed, Hameed Khan, Tahir Khan, Rafiq Khan, Ameer Hamza, Shah Wali, Muneer Khan, Mairaj Khan, Wasay Khan, Dawood Khan are all a good example.”
Muslim FC has been one of the few clubs which has really made a difference in Pakistan’s football eco-system and most of their players are working a nominal day-job. Some are labourers and some cobblers, while they continue to follow their passion for football.
For now, Qadeer is the only person trying to keep the team going. The club is mostly self-financed, albeit with great difficulties and on donations from local merchants, business people, influential figures and prize-money from different local tournaments.
“It all comes from the community. Like the traders or merchants that are here, or other figures, even our fans and I keep going because of them. This club is theirs’,” said Qadeer.
Muslim FC pose a serious threat to the more well-equipped and well-resourced teams from the departments in the PPFL since their arrival at the top league, which Qadeer takes great pride in.
Muslim FC is currently on the sixth place on the table after the first leg of the (PPFL) that was organised by Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah’s body. Ashfaq and co were elected during the 2018 Supreme Court-ordered elections, while Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) do not recognize the current holders of the PFF. Fifa has suspended Pakistan in April 2021 after Shah’s group forcefully took over the PFF headquarters from the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee on March 27.
Politics must stop
“I have a request, a message, and that is to discontinue with the political issues. That is my request,” said Qadeer.
He said that even though his side is getting paid for the current participation in the PPFL, with Rs200,000 for each leg, the financial stunting in football eco-system needs urgent solutions.
“Pakistan’s football is already of a third class standard in many ways. Even then you have these groups fighting to run it. We need football to continue and it can’t with so much politics, despite such low standards. We need tournaments, a good league, and mostly work on domestic system,” said Qadeer.
When asked if he has been contacted by any private league organisers, he said that he has not heard a word.
In Chaman alone, on district level, there are at least 32 clubs. Registered and several unregistered clubs play on any given day.
Muslim FC and their arch-rivals Afghan FC are the biggest powerhouses from Chaman, even in PPFL with hundreds and thousands of followers.
But while nothing changes in the PFF, Qadeer is happy as they won the 2021 All-Pakistan Chief Minister Diamond Jubliee Football Gold Cup with a 1-0 scoreline in the final.