A Tale of Two Football Matches

by Engr. Habib Khan from Quetta: In my youth days, I happened to be in Central Ukraine during the Soviet era, and was fascinated by the immensity of their sports programs. I loved to watch on the television Dynamo Kiev play Spartak Moscow or Dynamo Tbilisi in their respective jam-packed stadium.

One day, at the local central stadium (I was told there were at least 70 football grounds in the town of Krivoyrog), we witnessed a friendly match between boys of two different age groups; there was a festive environment–boys and girls dancing, parents supportive and encouraging their kids and bands and balloons and drinks and refreshments and what not.

I thoroughly enjoyed the event, and it remained stored in my memory twenty years down the line, when I was living in Hub for over a decade, and had seen the wonderful little industrial town systematically slipping into the hands of the drug mafia.

The Bollywood movies “Company” and “Ab tak chappan” would depict the true face of not only Mumbai but also of Hub those days. So confronting the mafia directly would have been suicidal, and we few educated (or at least literate) one’s thought of using sports to keep the youngsters away from the drugs.

One day, I asked my dear friend and ex-colleague Khuda Bakhsh Baloch who was a famous football player of the Hub region, if a football match between boys of 16 years and boys of 17 years could be possible? He agreed, so we fixed a date for the rematch of the Krivoyrog Ukraine of 22 years ago in the only available ground of Hub of those days.

When the match started, I noticed that most boys in the 16-year-olds team were taller than the boys in the 17-year-olds team, and I could guess that many more contrasts would be evident but had little idea that the contrasts would be so stark.

A few minutes into the game, some buffalos made their way into the ground; no one was bothered though, and the boys were having fun dribbling the ball between the buffalo’s legs. I couldn’t stop laughing and thought yaar, fun is after all fun, never mind if it’s a different type, but soon I realized that the fun may turn into misery when a few burqa-clad ladies took a short cut and entered the ground oblivious of the fact that some activity was going on.

If the ball hit the well endowed lady, I thought, a tribal feud may start, and if by stroke of bad luck the lady turned was from the “marri” tribe, then I and Khuda Bakhsh should think of leaving Hub or even Pakistan instantly.

Luckily, the boys seemed to have expertise and easily played the ball away from the ladies, but the speed at which they were moving, it looked like they took hours to cross the touchline.

As if this much trouble was not enough, from nowhere, a yellow cab I saw speeding into the ground, and this time I suspect a boy deliberately aimed at the cab and the ball hit it making a loud thud. The stupid taxi driver came out to confront the player, and then the difference between the ages disappeared–na koi banda raha aur na koi banda nawaz–and all the 22 players, one referee and two linesmen in unison attacked the taxi driver. I cried in agony “Khuda Bakhsh Maele” (Khuda Bakhsh please intervene) and everyone from the stand leapt into the ground and the ground looked more like a battleground than a football field. Well, somehow Khuda Bakhsh’s team did a great job to restore peace, and the driver escaped with just a few bruises.

When the referee blew the final whistle, I was the happiest man on the ground and only second to me was the winning team. I don’t even remember which team won, and on a serious note, after the prize distribution ceremony, when I asked the boys their dates of birth, I was stunned to know that just one boy out of the lot knew his date of birth and two others knew their year of birth; all the rest said, “Allah ke khabar ha sain”.

They were right. I too thanked Allah that me and Khuda Bakhsh were going home safe and intact with a resolve never to strike any kind of comparison between Hub with let alone Krivoyrog–not even with my village Noshkay bordering Afghanistan.

After all Hub is Hub.