Football – the beautiful game – has remained a truly global sport for decades. While it often depicts regional competitiveness, it has the capacity of uniting the whole world – even it is only for 90 minutes. From the broken down alleys of the African and South American slums, to the state-of-the-art gigantic arenas of Western Europe – it is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry and the heartbeat of sports fans across the world.
Pakistan is no different. This country also shares a colourful, albeit underachieving, football history. Often regarded as the ‘poor man’s sport’, it is strange how despite football’s simplicity and widespread appeal among the masses across the country, the game has failed to reach the same heights as hockey and cricket.
It is not strange to ask a common Pakistani about the national football team and receive a blank stare and a shrug in return. They cannot be blamed given how football has been an obscure sport that not many seem to care about.
To Pakistanis, the global game was like a silent unknown, even unwanted, step-child waiting for attention inside a house already over-populated with other noisy, attention-seeking kids. But without a shadow of a doubt, football should never be considered a ‘foreign’ sport in this country. Its history in these parts is even older than the country itself.
Humble origins For a game that was introduced to South Asia in the mid-19th Century as a morale-raising exercise for British troops during the British Raj, its simplicity and grace started capturing the imagination of the inhabitants of the Subcontinent. So profound were its effects on British India that 3rd the oldest running football competition, after the English FA Cup and Scottish FA Cup, is the Durand Cup that is still contested annually in India ever since its inauguration in 1888. Initially an annual competition involving the various British regiments based across India, it slowly started allowing local teams, especially from the Bengal region, to take part. Soon in early 20th Century, there were local football leagues centred on Calcutta (Kolkata) and Dacca (Dhaka) that gave the rise of teams like Mohammedan Sporting Club (its branches based across various Bangladeshi cities), Mohun Bagan, and East Bengal. South India, specifically Goa because of its Portuguese influence, also took up the game and established own local competitions.
In the north-western parts of what is now Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the nomadic and fierce Baloch and Hazara tribes based around Quetta immediately took a liking to the game upon watching it being played. The game’s popularity also spread among the Pakhtuns as well as the Punjabis who took it in their stride. The African-origin Sheedi community of the Makran coast and areas that now make up Karachi also took up this sport with a love and passion burns across Lyari. Local school and college level competitions were introduced as the game evolved in South Asia.
Pakistan emerges Upon independence in 1947, both East and West wings of Pakistan inherited the football infrastructure, like other sports, based in their respective territories. The need for establishing a nationwide football association was urgent, given that India inherited the erstwhile Calcutta-based Indian Football Association and the All-India Football Federation (AIFF), in order to govern the game properly across Pakistan.
The Pakistan Football Federation hence came into existence on December 5, 1947 and became a full member of FIFA in early 1948 with the Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah its Patron-in-Chief.
One can only speculate if the Quaid actually had a liking for football, given how he spent many years of his life studying and practising law in England when the Football League system was evolving during the late 1880s. In fact, the Quaid’s 1930s extended stay in London coincided with the dominating Arsenal FC side of the legendary Herbert Chapman who masterminded a team that won a remarkable total of 5 Football League First Division titles and 2 FA Cup wins between 1930 and 1938.
In 1948, the PFF organised the first ever National Football Championship held in Karachi between 28th May and 5th June. The first ever national champions were Sindh Red who defeated Sindh Blue in the final. However, any sort of professionalism in the game was non-existent. Pakistan was no different, as the first participants of the National Football Championship used players from local schools, colleges, government departments that coincidentally employed sportsmen, and open trials. Football in these parts was still years behind Europe.
Playing the game barefoot was a norm in South Asia and this practice cost India dearly. India were invited to the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, after their remarkable fourth-place finish at the 1948 London Olympics. The Indian team, however, insisted on playing barefoot and were eventually disqualified by the game’s governing body.
The PFF had a turbulent first two years due to a lack of funds and mismanagement. As a result, the National Championship was not held in 1949. However in early 1950, the PFF was completely restructured and reorganised after a general meeting of the council. Alhaj Khawaja Shahabuddin was made the PFF President and Wing Commander H.A. Soofi elected as the Honorary Secretary. This new look PFF helped bring back the National Championship, this time held in early September 1950 at Quetta where a Balochistan Red team beat Sindh in the final.
Due to infrequent nationwide competitions, it was the norm for Pakistani clubs teams to pursue friendly tours in neighbouring countries each year. Teams from Afghanistan, Iran, India, and Burma would often host Pakistani sides and play friendly matches against them in front of capacity crowds throughout the 1950s and later in the 1960s.
The well-organised Dacca Football League in East Pakistan often attracted the best players from West Pakistan to play professionally in a competition run as a parallel to the National Championships each year.
Fledging national team The results of the 1950 National Championship helped in the selection of the first ever Pakistan national football team that was to be sent on its first official tour to Iran and Iraq in October 1950 for some much needed international experience.
Under the captaincy of goalkeeper Osman Jan, Pakistan’s first ever official international game resulted in a 5-1 loss at the hands of Iran in Tehran on 27th October 1950 on the occasion of the birthday celebrations of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Very little is known about the scorers of the game because of lost records but what is known is that Pakistani team played the game barefoot which bemused the home crowd which also included the Iranian royal family as guests. Pakistan also played unofficial friendly games with Tehran’s Taj FC (now known as Esteghlal FC), beating them 6-1, as well as a team from Isfahan with whom Pakistan drew 2-2.
Pakistan then travelled to Iraq to play against the Iraqi national team in another official friendly in Baghdad, but the Iraqi FA was not able to gather the full Iraqi side. However, thanks to the intervention of Iraqi FA President Obaid Abdullah, Pakistan ended up playing his Iraqi club Haris al-Maliki (Royal Guards) in an unofficial friendly on 6th November 1950 at Baghdad’s Kashafa Stadium. In front of a 10,000 crowd, Pakistan once again played barefoot but managed to draw the game 1-1 with some good attacking displays, and missed chances, from both sides. The heroics of goalkeeper Osman Jan kept Pakistan from losing in the dying minutes of the game.
The Pakistan team that toured Iran and Iraq included goalkeeper and captain Osman Jan (Sindh), Muhammad Ramzan (Sindh), Muhammad Zaman Shah (Balochistan), Muhammad Hussain (Sindh), Ahmed Ali (Balochistan), Abdul Wahid Durrani (NWFP),Muhammad Yaqoob (NWFP), Muhammad Sharif (Punjab), Saadullah Khan Kaku (Army), Muhammad Qasim (Sindh), Taj Muhammad Jr (Balochistan), Muhammad Shafi (Sindh), Abid (East Pakistan), Haroon (Punjab) and Aziz Saeed Mirza. Khawaja Riaz Ahmed was team manager and Abdul Sattar Kohati as assistant manager.
The apparent success of the national team was expected to have encouraged frequent participation in international friendlies with teams from rest of Asia. However, it wasn’t until early 1952 that the national team were to play again; this time in the newly formed Asian Quadrangular League held at Colombo, Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) which became more commonly known as the Colombo Cup. One won’t be far off thinking that the Colombo Cup was precursor of the now established SAFF Championships.
It was at this tournament that the first ever Pakistan vs India football match took place; an affair that finished surprisingly as a 0-0 draw. In the next game Pakistan recorded its first ever international win, beating hosts Ceylon 2-0, and Pakistan then beat Burma 1-0 and Pakistan and India were declared joint winners of the inaugural Colombo Cup after both sides finished level on points.
The 1950s were a sporadic period in Pakistan’s international football. Because of very limited options available for PFF, international games were very infrequent. Perhaps most importantly, Pakistan could not participate in any World Cup qualification for many years because of such financial limitations as well as political instability inside the PFF that would hinder Pakistani football’s progress for many decades! Pakistan could only compete in the subsequent Colombo Cup editions (Burma 1953, India 1954, East Pakistan 1955) and the Asian Games football tournaments (Philippines 1954, Japan 1958).
The national team recorded mixed results by finishing 2nd place behind winners India in each of the three Colombo Cup editions, and narrowly missing out on progressing past the first round in the Asian Games tournaments. Pakistan did record some breathtaking victories that included a 6-0 win over Ceylon in 1953 Colombo Cup, a 6-2 win over Singapore on our Asian Games debut in 1954 thanks to hat trick by Masood Fakhari in a side captained by Pak Army’s Seargent Mohiuddin Kutti, as well as a 4-2 win over Burma in 1955 Colombo Cup thanks to a debut hat trick by Quetta’s very own star Qayyum Ali Changezi in a side that contained Jamil Akhtar as captain.
Already a hero for the Balochistan teams that would win the National Championships in 1956 (and once again later in 1959), the powerfully built yet graceful Qayyum Changezi would become one of the finest footballers of his generation alongside Masood Fakhri, Sergeant Mohiuddin Kutti, Taj Muhammad Sr. & Jr., Jamil Akhtar, Ghulam Rabbani, Turab Ali, Moosa Ghazi, Hussain Killer, Ahmed Ali Phullo, Master Riasat, Ismail Durrani, Abdul Wahid Durrani, Mohammad Yaqoob, Abdul Ghafoor Majna, Abid Ghazi, Mohammad Siddiq, Sunbal Khan, Muhammad Omar, Naimatullah Durrani.
During that time, the PFF became one of the 12 founding members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on 8th May 1954. Pakistan was scheduled to play Afghanistan for the inaugural 1956 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, but both sides withdrew at the 11th hour for unknown reasons. However in late 1959, after an unofficial tour to Burma with a former Scottish goalkeeper turned guest coach/selector named John McBride, Pakistan finally decided to send a team for the 1960 Asian Cup qualifiers hosted by India at Enakulam, Kerala State in which a Qayyum Ali Changezi-led Pakistan played the hosts, Iran, as well then-AFC members Israel twice each.
While only Israel managed to qualify by topping that group, it was a very memorable moment for Pakistan as it managed to record its first victories over Iran (4-1) as well as India (1-0) whilst drawing 2-2 with Israel and finished 3rd place (ahead of hosts India, but behind Iran) in the group.
Could an Israel-Pakistan match be possible today? Given how the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict has eventually gotten a strongly (often irrational) religious tone on both sides as well as around the world in recent decades, one will not be wrong doubting such a match will ever take place.
[To be continued…]
The writer is the chief editor, Pakistan correspondent and forum administrator of FootballPakistan.Com and would like to thank the co-founder, webmaster, and chief editor of FPDC Malik Riaz Hai Naveed, veteran football journalist Riaz Ahmed, and the Pakistan Football Federation for providing information that helped create this article chronicling the history for Pakistani football.
Pakistan football team’s international matches from 1950 to 1959
1950 – Pakistan Tour to Iran (Birthday of Shah of Iran) Manager: Khawaja Riaz Ahmed, Asstt. Manager: Abdul Sattar Kohati Iran beat Pakistan 5-1 in presence of Shah of Iran Pakistan beat Taj FC 6-1 and drew 2-2 against a club from Isfahan
1952 – Ist Asian Quadrangular Tournament – Colombo Manager: Khawaja Riaz Ahmed, Asst. Manager: Shajahan, Captain: Abdul Waheed Pakistan 2 – 0 Ceylon Pakistan 1-0 Burma India 0 – 0 Pakistan (Final)
1952 – Iran in Pakistan Captain Abdul Wahid Durrani (Pak) Iran 3 – 1 Pakistan – Lahore Iran 4 – 2 Pakistan – Peshawar Iran 3 – 1 Pakistan – Quetta Iran 1 – 1 Pakistan – Karachi (this is the only match of tour considered an official friendly by FIFA)
1953 – 2nd Asian Quadrangular Tournament – Rangoon Manager - Syed Rahman, Captain – Mohammad Sharif India 1 – 0 Pakistan Burma 1 - 1 Pakistan Pakistan 6 – 0 Ceylon Pakistan 1 – 0 India (Unofficial Charity Match)
1954 – Asian Games Manila Manager – Khawaja Riaz Ahmed, Asst. Manager - Khadakar, Captain - Sergeant Mohiuddin Kutti Pakistan 6-2 Singapore Burma 2-1 Pakistan
1955 – 2nd Asian Quadrangular Tournament – Dhaka Manager – Abdul Wahid, Asst. F. Karim Chaudhry, Captain Jamil Akhtar Pakistan 4 – 2 Burma Pakistan 2 – 1 Ceylon Pakistan 1 – 2 India
1956 – Pakistan tour to China Pakistan 1 – 1 Canton XI (Friendly) Pakistan 2 – 2 China (Test – not counted as official friendly by FIFA/AFC) Pakistan 0 – 1 Chinese Army (Friendly) Pakistan 0 – 5 Chinese Youth Team (Friendly)
1958 – Asian Games Tokyo – Japan Manager – Sharif Khan, Asstt. Manager - Rehman , Captain - Nabi Chaudhry (East Pakistan) Pakistan 1-3 Taiwan Pakistan 1-1 South Vietnam
1959 – Pakistan tour to Burma Manager – Malik M. Hussain, Asstt. Manager K.P Jafar, Captain Masoodul Hassan Pakistan 3 – 2 Burma XI Pakistan 0 – 1 Burma (not counted as official by FIFA/AFC) Pakistan 2 – 4 Burma (not counted as official by FIFA/AFC)
1959 – 1960 Asian Cup Qualifiers– hosted in India Manager – Flight Lt. Ramizuddin, Asstt. Manager – Pir Bakhsh Baloch, Coach – Saeed Mirza - Captain - Qayyum Ali Changezi, ‘Home’ Matches: Pakistan 0 – 1 India, Pakistan 4 – 1 Iran, Pakistan 2 – 1 Israel ‘Return’ Matches: Pakistan 1 – 0 India, Pakistan 1 – 4 Iran, Pakistan 2 – 2 Israel