If you didn’t like cricket, you were born in the wrong country, someone once said of Pakistan. But that is quickly changing. When I made fun of my brother-in-law’s Chelsea Football Club stickers plastered all over his car, he, only half-jokingly, threatened to kick me out. A few days later I had the worst fight ever with my younger brother when I thought it would be funny to hide the TV remote right before a Manchester United match.
What is the fuss about anyway? Why is the new generation, especially the urban youth, of a cricket loving country finding their new heroes, idols, and crushes in football club players? Billboards featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and the entire Man Utd football team are testament to the fact that these are celebrities our youngsters look up to. Pakistanis have never resisted being attracted by anything Western and we are a nation that loves sports.
Channels covering the English Premier League became easily accessible in Pakistan in the 1990s and David Beckham was on his way to becoming a full-fledged star. This sparked interest in clubs, and Manchester United became the most popular one. Soon everyone found their favourites, be it Chelsea, Arsenal or Barcelona. “Until there is a Pakistani football team worthy of being supported my loyalty is with Man U,” said one fan. According to another: “I started supporting Chelsea because of the colour blue. Now I can’t miss a match.”
The exasperated wife of one football fanatic feels it can get a bit much because the game is accessible not just through TV but phones as well. “It’s not football addiction. Its media addiction, and their priorities in life suffer. But if it keeps them away from other evils, I guess it’s okay.” I predict this football frenzy will continue to grow. And with our cricketers constantly surrounded in controversies perhaps these foreigners, many of whom have rags-to-riches stories, are better role-models for our youth.