KARACHI: The football ground is where two of Pakistan’s national women football team players Fatima Imran and Huda Naz used to train before they got selected. Both international players got their schooling from the Al-Qadir School in Chakiwara, Lyari, which is where they were introduced to football, too. And the ground where they played is no ordinary ground. It is situated on the rooftop of their school building.
D.M. Danish Baloch, administrator of the school, and who is director of planning, project and events for District Football Association (DFA), South, says that the ground of approximately 80ft x 40ft size, is sufficient for playing football.
The ground is entirely covered with scaffolding and temporary roofing. There are wooden goalposts on either side along with the white lines painted on the floor signifying the centre spot, penalty box, etc. A black leather punching bag hangs on one side in the half-way line. “We have girls coming here for boxing practice also. The punching bag can be pulled up above everyone’s heads thus providing no hindrance during a game,” says Mr Baloch.
‘Lyari has always been the breeding ground for footballers’
The walls on either side are high enough to prevent the ball from being kicked off the roof, still it does happen sometimes. “Usually, we get the balls that have fallen off our roof, but if they fall on the neighbouring building on the right, there is a problem,” Mr Baloch smiles. “That building houses a madressah and the folks running it are against girls’ education, leave alone their playing football or taking part in any other sport for that matter. So, we never get the football back from that direction,” he adds.
When asked what gave him the idea for turning his school’s rooftop into a football pitch, Mr Baloch says that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. “I built this school 25 years ago and there was never room here for a playground, a thought that often nagged me. Then, some six years ago I thought why not utilise the school building’s roof for the purpose as children need healthy physical activity along with schooling,” he says. “Today my school’s girls’ football team has won some eight inter-school football championships.” His office proudly displays the trophies from those events.
“Sometimes we have mixed football practice. The boys are strong players with superior skill, which helps better the girls’ game, too,” he says, adding that not every female student in the school plays football. “We counsel the parents and tell them that their daughters will play in trousers and not shorts. And even then if there is a problem we don’t force them,” he says.
Some students also come to the school to play football from other schools. And they have also issued scholarships to two boys to train and study here.
Nasir Karim, former chairman of the DFA-South, who is also associated with the school in advisory capacity, says that two of his daughters have also studied there. “Many of the girls who attend school here also happen to be daughters of footballers, since Lyari has always been the breeding ground for footballers. There was a time when all the players in Pakistan’s football team hailed from here,” he points out.
Shortage of football grounds
He also points to the fact that there is a shortage of playing fields in the area as children are often seen playing in the lanes and alleys of Lyari. “There are barely four good football grounds here for eleven-aside games and another four, which are only big enough for nine-aside games. The Peoples Stadium is out of reach of the common people now and the KMC Stadium charges Rs4,000 for each match. These days there is some talk of installing AstroTurf at some grounds such as the Kakri Ground as grass does not easily grow here in Lyari due to salinity in the soil,” he says.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020