Chitral: The football kings of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Hundreds of Chitrali men danced in ecstasy as their city’s traditional music played at the Tehmas Khan Football Stadium in Peshawar. And why not? After all, Chitral had been crowned as the champions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Three former Pakistan national team players combined to help Khalique-uz-Zaman Zahid head in the eventual winner in the second minute of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ufone 4G Football Cup final as Chitral beat Mardan on a cold Saturday night in the provincial capital.
Izharullah took the corner kick, Mohammad Rasool flicked it on for Zia-us-Salam who played it for Khalique to head it into the goal.
Izharullah, Rasool, and Zia — the internationals — also play for Khan Research Laboratories in the Pakistan Premier League. The department is a powerhouse in the country’s top-tier domestic football.
However, playing for departments is not as special for the Chitral players as playing for their home city.
“It is their expression of love for us,” Chitral defender Syed Ghazi told SAMAA Digital speaking of the passionate fans.
The passion was not only about the deafening cheers and the crazy dancing scenes. There was more to it. To watch their team play, vendors had closed down their shops at Chitrali Bazar in Peshawar and headed to the stadium.
This is only what Chitralis settled in Peshawar did for the love of their favourite team.
“Whenever we go to other cities to play, fans travel from Chitral to support us,” said Ghazi. “More than half of the fans who came here today have specially come to see us.”
If Ghazi’s claim is accurate, there were more than 2500 people only cheering for Chitral during the match.
Proof of that was also noticed when the announcer called out for the Mardan fans only to get silence as a response. When he summoned one from Chitral fans, there was a huge roar around the stadium.
The environment showed how deep-rooted the culture of football is in Pakistan’s remotest areas. Unfortunately, this cult has not been tapped by the relevant bodies.
Pakistan is currently banned by FIFA after a group led by former Peshawar Football Association president Ashfaq Hussain Shah took over the Pakistan Football Federation’s headquarters in March.
The sport in Pakistan has been marred by political turmoil within the PFF for almost a decade now. The ban by FIFA means Pakistan stays absent from the international football arena.
“Chitral has been able to produce many players who have played for the country and big departments, but these problems are suffocating the talent,” Ghazi lamented. “The target is to play for Pakistan, but if the political issues are not resolved, there’s nothing for these young players to look forward to.”
It is hard to say when the FIFA ban will be lifted and when Pakistan will be able to start flourishing on the international stage in football. However, it was witnessed in the tournament that if players are associated with teams belonging to places where they come from, the fandom will develop inevitably.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ufone 4G Football Cup staged 71 teams from across the province, out of those, it were Chitral and Mardan, who emerged as the top two teams.
This evening, Chitral will lock horns with the champions of the tournament’s Balochistan version Muslim Football Club Chaman, who proved themselves as the best among 69 participants.
When Chitral plays Muslim FC, it will once again be a showpiece of Pakistan’s diverse football culture, which, unfortunately, stays stuck in a rut due to political mafias, who, probably, have no regard for the sport.