July Issue 2010

By | Arts & Culture | Life Style | Published 10 years ago

Two hundred spectators sit under the orange sky, hooting and jeering as the Brazilian coach pulls Felipe Melo off the field, during the Brazil-Portugal match in the World Cup, South Africa, 2010. The atmosphere is electrifying — the crowd dances wildly at successful passes and the silence, when the referee pauses to deliberate, is deafening.(See photo gallery below).

This crowd is no different from the football fanatics at the Wembley Stadium in London. The only difference is that they live in the slums of Lyari, the oldest settlement of Karachi and instead of plasma screens and air-conditioned lounges, they gather around projectors in narrow alleys, wearing their jerseys from landa bazaar. Or they gather in the neighbourhood park. All age groups come together, with the five-year-olds protesting loudly when a yellow card is issued and discussing every move of the players with the same zeal as the older lot. Joints are rolled and passed around, as are munchies. The streets are packed with stalls of food — fish, chai, pulao and chips keep the fans going till the wee hours.

Home to 116 registered football clubs, Lyari has, for years, housed the most ardent sports fanatics. Sports that are relatively unknown or unpopular in the rest of Pakistan are played in neighbourhood parks here. There is a gym at every corner for body-builders, over eight football stadiums (jam-packed every evening) and boxing rings. A world-famous boxing champion, Muhammed Hussain, rose from here and the Pakistan football team that won the Gold Medal at the 2004 South Asian Federation (SAF) Games included a number of players from Lyari — a testament to Lyari’s potential in sports. Ali Nawaz Baloch, former captain of Pakistan’s national football team and a resident of Lyari, says it is important to encourage and support the talent pool in Lyari. Who knows, they may end up bringing the football World Cup home some day.

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Photo: Danish Khan.

The People’s Amn Committee, set up by the feared ‘godfather’ of Lyari, Rehman Dacait who died in a shootout last year, is aware of the Lyariwallas passion for football. Headed by Uzair Baloch now, the committee has set up screens in every alley and outside all Amn offices, attracting crowds by the hundreds. The crowds have a way of announcing the teams they are pitching for: cement houses, riddled with bullets holes, can be seen flying flags of favoured teams from their roofs. Brazil and Argentina appear to be the most popular and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the most loved players.

By day, the men of Lyari are busy earning a living as fishermen, camel-cart owners or donkey-cart loaders, but come night time and the alleyways are swarming with these daily wage earners-turned-football fans. They frequently bet on the matches, with the stakes starting from a couple of hundred rupees and running into thousands. Amanatullah, a resident of Lyari and a football fan, was rejoicing wildly after he had won a bet of Rs 5,000 on Brazil.

Asif Moosa, a resident of Khadda Market in Lyari, says some boys have changed their hairstyles to match those of the Argentinean players. He has been a fan of Brazil for the past 14-15 years and says the celebrations after a favourite team’s victory are a sight to behold. In fact Moosa is delighted that since the start of the World Cup, the guns have gone silent as all eyes are focused on the matches.

Teenagers, who played with rocket launchers, are now running barefoot in the streets, armed only with their footballs. Football has brought peace to streets that only recently echoed with the sound of gunshots.

Click on any photo to begin a slide show.

Text: Maheen Bashir Adamjee
Photography: Danish Khan

Maheen Bashir Adamjee is an APNS award-winning journalist. She was an editorial assistant at Newsline from 2010-2011.