Romelu Lukaku runs off in celebration after sending one through the goal post. His team erupts in joy. He keeps running until one of his teammates catches up with him. He turns around and joins the rest in celebration. He is hugged by Paul Pogba who tells him how he could have had a more clinical finish to his goal. They are playing at the Theatre of Dreams. Just not the same Theatre of Dreams millions of football fans are familiar with. 

The Rising Stars Football Academy is a small football academy in Lyari, UC 8, where children of ages six to 15 get free training. When playing there they don’t address each other or themselves by their real names. Instead they use the names of the footballers they are fans of. The Kulri Zigri School’s small compound is nothing less than a sacred piece of land for these children. They don’t even mind running and diving on a ground where there is no grass  as long as they are allowed to train there.

Murad, their coach and a former professional football player, has been out of work for a long period. Despite his inability to make ends meet, he has taken on the task of supporting the hopes of many of the area's children. "In roughly three or four months, we'll be celebrating the first anniversary of Rising Stars Football Academy," Murad explains. "We established this academy to protect our children from drug addiction and to engage them in good activities," he says.

In a small corner of Karachi’s oldest neighbourhood, a struggling former professional footballer is on a mission to produce the next crop of great footballers. And to keep them away from drugs

I was a footballer myself. I have played for Hyderi Baloch and the National Bank of Pakistan along with being a part of the national camp for the Pakistan football team. I used to look at these children playing football in the street and I thought to myself, ‘Why not bring them here and train them?’ Someone may end up making a name for himself, who knows?” says Murad.

The ground was full of puddles after the rain, making it hard for the children to train,” he points out. “I asked them to bring brooms and wipers from their homes so that we could drain the water as much as possible” “When asked why there are no female players at the academy, he explains that he gave them a day off so he could prepare the ground and reduce the danger of injury.””


The coach, on the other hand, seemed pleased with how the programme handles injuries. “For first aid, we usually go to Sohrab Bhai, the Karachi United goalkeeper, who lives in our mohalla. For serious injuries, we usually go to the Lyari General Hospital. Our eight-year-old goalkeeper recently injured his elbow while diving on the ground. We took him to the hospital, donated a small amount for his treatment and paid for the rickshaw fare from our pocket,” he explains.

Six-year-old Ali Haider is the youngest player at the academy. When asked about his favourite footballer, his prompt reply is Cristiano Ronaldo. Not very surprisingly, Ronaldo is one of the most adored footballers of many children in Lyari. A bit shy, Ali Haider takes off soon after answering the query. He is a first grade student at a local madrassah.

Sajjad's frizzy, spiky hair has been coloured brown at the age of ten. He is also a huge Ronaldo lover. With a glint in his eyes, he says, "I used to love Real Madrid, but now I support Juventus because of him." When asked if he has had any trouble receiving permission to play at home, he emphatically denies it. Coach Murad is on his side. Murad further confirms that all of the children's parents are highly supportive since they wish to protect their children from society's problems.

Two additional boys, Mubeen and Sahil, who are 11 and 12 years old, sit on the sidelines. For the past few hours, they had been silently watching the happenings. When I approach them, they are initially hesitant to speak. When prompted to speak, they respond that they are not permitted to train. When I question why, they say it's because they don't have the necessary supplies. "We love football and want to play, but we can't because we don't have any equipment," Sahil says. 

When this is brought to the coach's attention, he simply shrugs and says that the regulations are in there for everyone to obey. "Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do for them other than feel terrible for them." What you see here is the result of our mohalla's combined efforts. People contributed funds to enable us to purchase training equipment such as uniforms, shoes, and footballs. With our limited resources, we can only accomplish so much. "We have a nine-year-old youngster who practises and plays in two different shoes," Murad reveals.


Tauheed, 14, and Mansoor, 13, are also seen walking around the grounds with a cricket bat in their hands. When questioned why they aren't playing football, they explain that they can no longer afford to do so. "We stopped playing football because cricket is cheaper," one of them explains before the other tugs him away.

I inquire if Coach Murad has ever been approached for sponsorship by a local organization or private enterprise. He claims they haven't, and he is pleading with the federal and provincial governments to at the very least level the ground, which would assist the children escape serious injury. He also asks those in positions of authority to assist them with training equipment, shoes, and footballs so that more children in the neighborhood can pursue their ambition of playing football. Murad has a lot of experience with disappointed goals.


1 comment:

  1. Well we can say thay "Determination is the key to sucess"


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