QUETTA: To trace the history of football in Balochistan and the province’s unwavering passion for football, just look at the present.
As Quetta’s Baloch FC faced Muslim FC of Chaman in the Balochistan Ufone Cup final at a crowded Ayub football stadium on Thursday night, it’s pretty clear why the affinity for Balochistan football is unprecedented in the rest of the country.
Loyalty was fiercely divided between the fans present. The crowd was asked to control their emotions. Muslim FC’s most popular player, Hayatullah, had to appeal to his club’s supporters not to disrupt the game. After all, it was just a game. But for fans of the game here, it’s part of the faith.
The tribalism of football is similar to that of society here on the whole. Balochistan is a workers ‘society and football has always been a workers’ sport.
The seeds of the Quetta-Chaman rivalry have long been sown. It is about bragging in the province. It doesn’t matter what tournament it is, it’s all about supremacy. Then there is also a difference in ideals and beliefs as well as how football has found its place in different parts of the larger province of Pakistan.
Quetta, which the Pashtuns have long claimed to be part of its southern border, according to most historians, took its liking for the game from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly the North West Frontier Province, where British evangelist Theodore Leighton Pennell introduced the game in the 1880s.
Chaman’s proximity to Afghanistan, where football is very popular, is believed to have played a role in the game’s spread to the border town. The Makran coast was until the 1960s a territory of Oman. The mining towns of Dukki and Panjgur discovered the game thanks to British miners who played the game in their spare time.
This means that Balochistan has been fertile ground for the biggest players from another country. From full back Jumma Khan, who pre-score was the province’s biggest export to Mohammedan Sporting Kolkata and was part of five Calcutta League winning teams in six seasons, to Qayyum Changezi and Mohammad Essa, and the biggest star Pakistani woman of the social media era, Kaleemullah.
But while the players have innovated, the best clubs in Balochistan have not. And that’s largely due to the fact that in a department-dominated national league, the Pakistan Premier Football League, they can’t match the spending or retention power to really make a mark. Most of their top talent – Essa and Kaleem, for example – are recruited by departments that can offer regular salaries and benefits even during the off-season.
“For us, the PPFL is just a step where the players we select from the community can express themselves and be picked up by the departments where they can have a better future,” said Imran Ali, Baloch manager. FC Quetta, at Dawn after the final.
This year, however, after returning to the country’s Premier League after a seven-year hiatus, Baloch FC – which has existed since the country’s independence – decided not to participate in the PPFL due to the long-standing conflict in the Pakistan Football Federation.
Pakistan remains suspended by FIFA after the court-elected PFF led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah regained control of the PFF headquarters on the standards committee appointed by the world football body. It was the latest incident that hampered the growth of the game in the country. And Balochistan, it can be said, has suffered the most.
“The players need a chance to play… especially the players here,” Kaleemullah told Dawn. “This is one of the reasons Balochistan is looking forward to tournaments organized by private companies.”
Many of the talents that have come over the years have only participated in tournaments like the one hosted by Ufone, which was first hosted in 2016 and is now in its fourth edition. In its first edition, it faced the Pakistan Petroleum Limited Balochistan Cup which ran for three years until 2017.
At least these tournaments have shown more consistency than the PPFL. This season’s PPFL – staged after a hiatus of almost three years – was hosted by Ashfaq Shah’s squad, which means it has always been contested. The previous edition was held four years ago, just before the battle for control of the PFF began with a controversial election in 2015.
“This has caused great damage to our players… there was nothing to hope for for the players,” former secretary of the Balochistan Football Association, Haji Saeed Tikko, who is hosting the tournament, told Dawn. Ufone. “We have a tournament here where we have participation from all over the province and we can see new talent, but where are they going. “
During this tournament, Tikko organized talent hunts in all districts of Quetta. Previously this was done by the organizers of the PPL Cup and the Ufone Cup would only see clubs participating. “The club teams came out on top here because they existed while the district teams had players who had never played together. Despite this, we still saw promising talent in the neighborhoods.
As Tikko spoke, his gaze turned to the FIFA Goal project behind the Ayub Stadium. What could have left a lasting legacy and a pledge of the World Football Organization’s contribution to football-mad Balochistan stood in the dark. It was supposed to be a training center for emerging talent. Over the years it has only changed owners but has had no tenants – the players.
After CN’s appointment in September 2019, the group led by Haji Khalil, the rival group of Tikko’s led by Abdul Rauf Nautezai, were appointed goalkeeper of the Goal project. Members of Khalil’s group had been appointed to the provincial committee of Balochistan, but the change at the head of the NC, and its subsequent restructuring, meant that Nautezai and Tikko now had control. “The NC did nothing to really relaunch it”, regretted Tikko.
In the shadow of the Goal Project, Muslim FC lifted the trophy amid fireworks in the night sky of the illuminated Ayub Stadium after winning the final 2-0. Muslim FC had participated in the PPFL season which came to a screeching halt after the government sealed the PFF headquarters due to its three-year non-payment of its lease, which overthrew the PFF in Ashfaq.
They were in fifth place after 14 games played but realistically, faced with the challenge of the departments, they were not challengers for the title. In their own territory, in their own province, however, they are the kings. And their fans made sure to celebrate every moment.
The government has decided to start shutting down departmental sports by the start of next year and switch to a regional system instead. However, there doesn’t appear to be a roadmap for how clubs like Muslim FC and Baloch FC will feature there. Despite all their history and the fan culture they bring, they have to be in the system. For now and with the PFF’s entanglement dragging on, it looks like they’ll need to compete in tournaments like these to prove they’re the best team in a province where the passion for football has never no limits.
Posted in Dawn, le 26 November 2021