KARACHI: With his back towards the goal and the ball bouncing in front of him, Mohammad bin Younis had little option other than to just flick it past him hoping it would at least be on target. The connection was pure, however, and in an instant the net bulged.
Mohammad didn’t even look back to make sure it had gone in. The roar of the crowd and his onrushing team-mates, from the pitch and from the bench, and the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) supporters would’ve told him all that he wanted to know.
It was one of those matches for which one just had to be at the KMC Stadium to witness the outpouring of emotion that the game of football brings out.
For Pakistan’s — and more specifically Karachi’s — football aficionados, moments like those have been few and far between in the last couple of years with the game in crisis following a dispute in the country’s football federation.
On Friday, a near-capacity crowd made sure they wouldn’t let this one pass. They spared no time in running onto the field in celebrating Mohammad’s last-gasp equaliser that tied the second semi-final of the inaugural Naya Nazimabad Quaid-i-Azam Departmental Football Tournament against Muslim Trading Chaman at 1-1 and took it to a penalty shootout.
There was absolute delirium. KPT have historically enjoyed large support from Karachi’s working class football-loving population because of their free-flowing style of play and the goal sparked scenes of raw joy and celebration.
Muslim Trading might be from Chaman but they don’t have any lack of support in Karachi. They had an almost equal number of supporters at the venue, their fans including many from the border city who have settled in the country’s biggest city.
Those fans sank in their seats when Mohammad scored in the third minute of stoppage time, Muslim Trading having dominated for large swathes of the match and led since the 15th minute through Shah Wali’s piledriver from outside the box.
The penalties would now decide which section of the supporters would have the last laugh — and the victory lap. The momentum swung from one side to the other in a gripping shootout before Muslim Trading’s Mohammad Tahir missed the decisive penalty.
KPT’s supporters flooded the ground again, escorting the team to the dressing room and in full voice as fans of Muslim Trading gathered around their bench where the goalkeeper wept and the others expressed their dismay. Some of them just stood there watching them, some offering words of comfort.
Scenes like these were once a norm in Pakistan football, with no barrier to hold fans from entering the field. It’s a part of the footballing culture, making it so unique in so many ways. The working class loves the game and they have missed it since the suspension of the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) and the second-tier Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL).
The scenes on Friday showed exactly how much. The iconic KMC Stadium has witnessed similar scenes in its glorious history. It could see more in the final between KPT and Khan Research Laboratories on Sunday.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2017