“The great thing about this World Cup is that there are Muslim teams that are playing well, so that is what makes it much more exciting,” said the abaya-clad Gul Pari Marri Baloch, who has been coaching young girls in the village Bhit Bhaiti, district Sanghar in tehsil Khipro.
Gul and her husband Amjad Rind Khan have been dedicated to building a football community in their village and they feel that this is one way of rebuilding their lives after the devastating floods washed away their homes earlier this year.
Amjad is a government employee, but his real passion lies in sports as he used to be a footballer himself. Even though a very meager salary that he gets from his government job does not help with the expenses, but Gul, who has been a teacher for the last 15 years and has also been a health worker with People's Primary Healthcare Initiatives, have found a way to keep the spirits up in the community through sports.
In fact, following the World Cup in the worst of times have made them a part of global fanbase of the beautiful game.
“Football is spreading and becoming more and more popular now,” Amjad told The Express Tribune from Bhit Bhaiti. “Since the FIFA World Cup began the children, youngsters and even older folks like my own father who is six years older that Pakistan are following it religiously, and this is not only a way to get a break from our lives but also helping in bringing the community together. We have already seen so many hardships this year. There are still people who do not have their houses rebuilt, the rehabilitation from the deadly floods has not happened in the rightful way. But having the World Cup now and engaging in it has been a wonderful way to be a part of something bigger than just this village.”
Amjad said that his own house had been damaged by the floods, but after availing himself of a loan for rebuilding it, the place is now hosting the neighbours and aspiring players for the football World Cup.
“We live in a very underdeveloped area of Sanghar Zilla, you see, there is a lot of poverty and everyone does not have television sets, so we have this routine now that everyone comes to this veranda which is also connecting around 25 houses with each other, and we watch these matches. We have been very excited this time because we have so many Muslim countries playing , and Saudia Arabia has been very impressive lately, they have won the hearts, while Brazil is a hot favourite among the people of our village,” explained Gul.
On the other hand, Amjad who also coaches boys at a school run by a Non-Governmental Organisation and assists Gul with the girls' teams, said that the fans of the game come together but the real fun starts when there are supporters of both teams in a match instead of just one.
“We had been incredibly happy for Saudi Arabia, we all celebrated their win against Argentina in their first match, but then when Argentina were playing against Mexico, we all wanted Lionel Messi’s side to win, because it is important for the good teams to come forward, but then we have some fans of the French team and they get very vocal, and that is when the fun begins. But apart from that we are supporting underdogs too, like Ghana against Portugal, but then of course there were mistakes made by Ghana, and we all really thought that Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty was not legitimate, the referees just give penalties to the bigger names,” said Amjad.
He added that football is still not as popular as cricket in the village, but the popularity is increasing with time; however, in Khipro tehsil, there are 14-15 football clubs that field their teams in local events.
“Football is a big sport, and in the main city of Sanghar, along with Khipro, there is craze and I feel our village is also getting there in terms of following, meanwhile we coach boys and girls after they come back from their schools so there is a lot of enthusiasm here,” said Amjad, who used to be a footballer as well.
Gul said that her aim is to see the girls follow the sport as much as the boys and she is working hard because there is not enough freedom for them to hone their athletic skills.
“I want the girls to watch and learn too, and they do come and play, we train the girls for free, and my husband coaches the boys for free, but the level of freedom is not the same, the environment is that of a village, so I feel this World Cup is helping in spreading awareness too, and that is important,” reflected Gul.
Both Gul and Amjad added that with knock-out stages starting from December 3, the crowd will be bigger at their home.
“There will be more people and we will keep hosting them. Right now the weather is a little colder than before so we are all brining it inside our small rooms, and those who cannot fit in stay outside, but more and more people will show up in the knock-out rounds, and we are preparing for it.
“In the village, there are power outages too, but since we have installed a system powered by solar energy, we make sure that we don’t miss any match,” said Amjad as Bhit Bhaiti prepares for more World Cup action ahead.
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