The club scene
by Taha Alizai
While Pakistan’s stature in world football remains unchanged, the landscape of football in Pakistan has changed tremendously over the last 10 or so years.
Fundamental to this has been the setting up of football leagues coupled with the impact of cable/satellite resulting in matches of all top foreign leagues of the world being telecast live.
Following on from the success of the department based K-League (brainchild of the late Hassan Musa of PIA), Karachi United FC launched the Karachi Premier League in 2003 (Karachi League). Thereafter, in 2004, the PFF organised the first ever national league, i.e., the PPFL. While other leagues have been set up from time to time, PPFL and the Karachi League are the only leagues that have managed to maintain continuity.
Whereas the Karachi League was and continues to aim at the promotion of club football in Karachi, the PPFL features the top teams in the country which essentially comprise of departments and the armed forces teams plus a handful of clubs.
Three teams, namely, Wapda (four titles), Army (two) and this season’s top team KRL (who will add a third title to their two previous ones) have been dominant in the nine seasons of the PPFL. On the other hand, the Karachi League has seen as many as seven different winners in its past nine seasons with Shahzad Mohammadan FC being the only club to have won two titles. The complete list of winners of the Karachi League is: Hyderi Baloch (2003), Lyari Labour Welfare Centre (2004-05), Young Ansari (2005-06), Keamari Mohammadan (2006-07), Shahzad Mohammadan (2007-08 and 2008-09), Chanesar Blue (2009-10), Baloch Youth (2010-11) and Burma Mohammadan (2011-12).
Whereas the PPFL follows a promotion/relegation model with teams from the second division, i.e., the PFF League (PFF-B) being promoted (bottom two of the PPFL are replaced by the top two in the PFF-B), given the large number of clubs in Karachi, the Karachi League essentially sees the top eight or so teams maintaining their places, whereas the remaining eight to 12 are nominated by the district associations of Karachi. The Karachi League has seen a constant evolution to manage the demands of the associations as well as sponsors. Hence, initially having been launched as a 10-team single league event, for the last few seasons, it has featured 20 top Karachi clubs divided into two groups of 10 each with the top four in each group advancing to the Super League/Playoff stage. From these eight, the top four qualify for the semis and final and the league has become more akin to the MLS format than the European model.
Where the PPFL has been successful is that it has been able to maintain the same number of teams and the proper double league format. However, criticisms abound as regards the congested nature of the fixtures, with players sometimes being subjected to three games in five days.
The fact that PPFL essentially features department and armed forces teams has also meant that attendances are poor, with the best supported teams being the Balochistan clubs Afghan FC (Chaman), Baloch FC (Noshki) and Muslim FC. In stark contrast, the Karachi League, despite being essentially at the level of a third division, routinely attracts healthy audiences with the highlight being the 2008-09 final between Shahzad Mohammadan and Nazimabad FC where a huge crowd of over 18,000 witnessed proceedings at the KMC Stadium. The playoff matches of that season’s Karachi League were also broadcast (recorded and not live) on TenSports. Last season’s final between eventual champions Burma Mohammadan FC and Karachi United FC saw a healthy crowd of 8,000 at the Baloch Mujahid Stadium.
While the average match bonuses and prize money of the PPFL is higher, the largest amount of prize money in a single event was handed out in the sixth edition of the Karachi League when the champions received Rs1 million and the overall prize money and bonuses were in excess of Rs4 million.
The PFF essentially cover the major operational costs of the PPFL and the teams pay their players as well as cover their travel costs. Since the Karachi League clubs are amateur outfits, the players are not pros and don’t ordinarily get paid. All costs are borne by the hosts Karachi United either themselves or through sponsors.
The writer is the founder of Karachi United Football Club and set up the Karachi League
Difference between local and foreign
by Ali Ahsan
It may come as a surprise to the many growing football followers in Pakistan, and their passion for watching the latest European football action on ESPN-STAR, but Pakistan actually has its own Premier League! It’s just that no one notices it.
The PPFL was formed in 2004 on orders of the newly-elected Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat to restructure the flagging fortunes of the beautiful game in Pakistan. It’s been nearly 10 years since its establishment, and it is safe to say that the fortunes of Pakistan football remain in the doldrums. As someone who has been up close and personal with the intricacies of Pakistani football for almost that same period of time, the difference between leagues in the rest of the world and the PPFL is staggering and it shows why Pakistan football has struggled.
Football leagues around the world, be it professional divisions or semi-pro lower tiers, tend to have a very community-friendly appeal revolving around teams that represents the various cities and towns. The bigger the city, the more teams there will be that appeal to a certain part of the city and its residents. There is no surprise that cities like London, Manchester, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, São Paulo, etc., tend to have more than one team in the top division. Such teams are private entities with a corporate sponsorship appeal that have made them global brands over the last decade. The attention, hype and focus these mega teams get tend to bring in tremendous investment to make world-class facilities, dedicated youth academies, and rope in the best football talent from home and abroad. Football is a multi-billion dollar industry now in the world with the footballers as high performance machines.