Lyari, Karachi’s oldest settlement, is the undisputed capital of football in Pakistan. It is also a perpetual seat of horrible gang violence. Last week, Lyari was again being drenched in blood as the gang war continues. Today (and yesterday) it was at a standstill as all eyes in Lyari were glued at the opening games of the FIFA Football World Cup 2010. Tomorrow (or maybe even later today) the red patches may again come from the blood of the young in Lyari being spilled needlessly, but right now the streets are decked with the flags of the teams playing a world away in South Africa.
Lyari, during football fever, is a sight to behold. An amazement even more amazing for anyone who has visited this extremely poor and violence struck community in other times. It gets draped in flags of whichever teams are playing – as you see in this picture, even the flag of the United States; something that one one never see being flown anywhere in Pakistan today! - and then the conversation gets passionate, technically intricate, and lines get drawn. People who have never been to, or never likely to set foot in Germany, Argentina, Italy or Brazil (especially, Brazil!) get all excited about ‘their’ teams, wear and fly the colors of ‘their’ countries, and engage each other in those long conversations – sometimes even fistfights – that can pale even the cricketing passions of Pakistan. (By the way, at least in the 1990s, Pele used to be the undisputed King of Lyari).
Exactly a week ago, the seven family members of Mohammad Sulaiman became virtual hostages in their Eidu Lane apartment when outside trigger-happy rival gangs fought pitched battles, occasionally using mortar shells for good measure. The weeklong deadly episode of the long-running Lyari gang warfare claimed over a dozen lives, but on Thursday Sulaiman, like his neighbours, was ready to become part of the month-long festivities that kicked off in the area with the opening of the football world cup by the Rainbow Nation.
… â€œThe walls of my apartment building are still pock-marked with bullet holes left in the wake of the weeklong gunfight,â€ he says. â€œYou see, Lyari is extremely resilient. Loss of lives is certainly unfortunate. But those who are alive insist on having their right to normal lives. And football for them is a way of life.â€ Lyari may lately have been ravaged by gang warfare, but every four years the football world cup reignites the passion of the town â€” which still has 116 registered soccer clubs â€” for football.
It was once home to all the national team members that beat Turkey and Iran in the 1966 world cup qualifying matches. Ali Nawaz Baloch, the former captain of the Pakistan national team who rose to fame from the streets of Lyari, believes poverty, lack of political will and growing negligence by the administration have turned the town of football lovers into a stronghold of armed gangs. â€œItâ€™s a town of the poor who have barely a few things to be cheerful about. Football is one of them. Indeed, it tops the list,â€ says Mr Baloch, who was honoured with the Presidentâ€™s Pride of Performance Award in 1995 for his services to the national football team in the 1970s. â€œThe standard of football played by us started to deteriorate after the fall of Dhaka in 1971. Things have not looked up since then, both for football and for the town.â€
More in this report from Express Tribune:
Pakistan may not be participating in the Football World Cup but the craze for the biggest sporting event is at an all-time high with fans gearing up to cheer every moment of it… Fans in Lyari are eager to see the 32 teams eye the prestigious glory â€“ being crowned FIFA world champions. The gang war that grips the area is not a hurdle as they chalk out plans to enjoy the extravaganza.â€œThe security situation in the area is not a concern for these fans,â€ said Yaqoob Baloch, a football organizer. â€œTheyâ€™ve already bought flags and posters of their favorite teams and youâ€™ll see kids having memorized the schedule.â€
Baloch added that locals are also planning to install large screens in a few areas including the Navaline Eagle Chowk and the Lyari Town Office near the South Football House. Former Pakistan captain Zafar Iqbal said that majority of the fans are supporting Brazil and cheeringÂ Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Spain and England also find some support among the fans. He added that all the 75 clubs of the area have arranged TV sets to watch the matches. Hasan Baloch, the coach of the Pakistan Under-14 team that secured the second position in AFC Football Festival in Iran, said fans have waited for four years for the event.
â€œAll the fans are prepared to enjoy something they have waited for four years and they are very excited about it,â€ said Baloch who is a Lyari resident as well. In Malir, the eastern town of the city, playersâ€™ posters are in high-demand and flags of different participating countries have already been hoisted by enthusiasts on their roof-tops. Brazil is also the favourite team for Malir fans as well and screens are being installed there too for the later stages of the World Cup. â€œThere are hardcore fans in Malir. They are football fanatics to the point you can witness clashes among fans during their teamsâ€™ matches,â€ said one fan Sanaullah Asif.
I hope this will be a good World Cup for Lyari. That will happen if the sport can give some respite from violence to this beautiful but violence drenched community.