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Faras Ghani | 10 Jul 2014 12:41 GMT | Sport, Asia, Pakistan, Football
As the World Cup kicked off in Brazil last month, gunfire took a back seat in the violence-ridden neighbourhood of Lyari, a southern town in Pakistan's coastal city of Karachi.
Notorious for being the hub of drug abuse and a rarely ceasing gang war, Lyari is also the country's mecca of football. Every four years, when the world goes crazy for football, Lyari residents tend to go soft on the ethnically divisive Kutchi-Baloch rivalry and the politically motivated turf war. Instead, they focus on on-field duels taking place thousands of miles away.
"You will see people of rival ethnic groups celebrating with each other when their followed teams (mostly Brazil and Argentina) score," Mohammad Younus, a local, told Al Jazeera.
Younus once played for Pakistan's reserve team and now runs a small grocery store. He also coaches local youth who give up studies and work at times to participate in club tournaments. There are no financial gains and no future in football for these youngsters. It's the passion that drives them.
While political protest die down during the World Cup, if Brazil or Argentina were to lose a match, rallies are taken out against the opposition with plenty of chanting and flag-burning witnessed in the process.
Residents of Lyari often complain of neglect where local players are ignored for national duty. There are no decent facilities in the area either with makeshift indoor arenas, including boxing clubs and old storage areas, being used by kids to practice.
Pakistan’s football team is ranked 164th in the world but the interest outweighs potential. There are 175 registered football clubs in Lyari, each having a pool of 25 players. There is no financial remuneration for the players. Instead, they pool up to pay for jerseys and travels.
Screens are put in place for most of the World Cup matches and the arrangements are funded by the locals. Whenever Brazil or Argentina take the field, over 1,000 supporters don the jerseys and follow their teams(***) every move on the big screens.
Pakistan spends less than two percent of its GDP on education and most of these young footballers in Lyari don(***)t make it past high school. The few interested ones do continue their education but end up skipping classes in order to take part in the club matches.
The interest develops at a young age as kids follow in the footsteps of their elders. While a club game is going on, the younger ones will sit on the side and act as volunteer ball boys. Their sole wish is to be part of the action, from the side or in the middle.
The ones not in school or colleges find day jobs to support their families or get a decent amount of pocket-money coming in. Those on daily wages often call in sick or call it a day early in order to turn up for their clubs in the afternoon - even if they are made to warm the bench. This ensures they don(***)t fall into the lure of drugs and violence.
As with most of the other footballing hubs of the world, football came to Lyari from the British during their rule. Being a coastal town, local fishermen picked up the game from the British. Their support for Brazil, however, is mostly based on the team(***)s success over the years.
Around 3,251 people were killed in several incidents of violence in Karachi last year. Lyari gang war claimed more than 100 lives. Cheel Chowk (Eagle Junction), being at the heart of Lyari, was the epicentre of skirmishes between miscreants and the police as the sound of gunfire filled the air and used bullets lay scattered along the roads.
Women are known to watch the World Cup matches with equal interest and the various flags seen fluttering over rooftops are mostly sewn at home by them. Older men offer post-match analyses while boys in team jerseys and footballer-style haircuts berate missed opportunities.
Cricket remains the nation(***)s most-loved sport. Despite Pakistani city of Sialkot producing almost half of the world(***)s footballs, the sport dwarfs in popularity against cricket. Despite that, there is an increased interest in formal training (for those who can afford it).
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