22/11/2016. One of the final League matches before the knockout stages would begin in the Pakistani Football League. This match would decide whether Footy FC finished top of the league and whether Lag FC would finish in 3rd or 4th position. With this victory, Footy confirmed their position as the winners of the League stage and booked a semi-final date against the same opposition in 5 days.
The first-ever Pakistani Football League in Bilkent has lived up to expectations so far with many high-scoring games, upsets and controversies galore.
There has been one team occupying the bottom position as the proverbial whipping-boys for the rest of the teams while the top five teams, BCFC, Lag FC, Footy FC, Adilaar FC and Jandaar FC, have been slugging it out for the top four positions and a place in the semi-finals. The tournament has seen many entertaining games to date, from one 6-6 draw to another 8-8 draw while controversy has also not been far away with some bad decisions from the referee (that would be me) and injuries to the players affecting the tournament.
At the time of writing, this is how the teams shape up in the League Table and how the matches have gone up till now:
And here are the Top 5 moments of the tournament so far:
5) Every KBH FC match so far:
You would have received very good odds if you were a betting man and, at the start of the tournament, you placed a bet on KBH FC going on and winning the whole thing. Maybe even better odds than there were of Leicester City winning the Premier League last season. Sadly, this fairy tale is not coming true.
Every match that the underdogs have been a part of up till now has involved all the fans sitting outside the football courts cheering them on. Their stubbornness in not knowing when they're beaten as they keep coming back, perhaps surprisingly, for more in their match has been a thing to behold in itself in this tournament. The sheer enthusiasm with which the team plays their games with every goal being cheered like a victory has been a treat to call as the referee.
Led by their captain Abu Bakr Cheema and star player Usama Saqib, who has looked like a sad and lonely figure at times during their games, the team to their credit never gives up and keeps on playing till the final whistle. Despite being on the wrong end of multiple double-digit scorelines so far, they still show up to the next match with the same level of enthusiasm as before.
4) When The Favourites Clash
For every 11-0, 14-1, 11-4 scoreline that KBH has been a part of, there have been the odd 2-1 and 1-0 wins in the tournament as well.
As neutrals, we all like to see goals but as a player, there is a different satisfaction to winning and winning while keeping a clean sheet.
Whenever the favourites for the tournament have clashed, the games have been much more tight with less space on offer for attacking players. This has resulted in Footy FC's 1-0 win over fellow-favourites BCFC and BCFC's 2-1 win over one of the other pre-tournament favourites, Lag FC.
Footy FC, captained by Abdul Hannan, and Lag FC, captained by the organizer of the tournament Alyy Haroon, have had the tightest defences, conceding only 14 goals in their 5 games so far. However, BCFC on the other hand have completed their 7 League games finishing with only 17 goals conceded so there's a chance the former two times could concede more than three goals in their remaining two games and BCFC might end up with the fewest goals conceded in the League. The race for the Best Defence award is well and truly on.
3) That Injury
For every great goal and entertaining game, there is a reminder that football is still at the end of the day, a sport. And nothing is more important in the tournament than the safety of the participants.
When Haziq Khan of Adilaar FC collided with Footy FC's goalkeeper Yawar Abbas in Footy's 8-4 victory, at first nothing looked serious. Football is, of course, a contact sport and collisions occur. However, after a while, neither did Haziq get up nor did he move. The match was temporarily stopped as everyone on the pitched helped the Adilaar player to his feet. He spoke of a burning headache which wouldn't go away so after the match, Haziq was taken to the Bilkent Main Campus Health Centre where the Doctors confirmed that he had suffered a mild concussion, putting an end to the player's participation in the tournament. Haziq has not featured for his team since then, leaving a reminder to us all that injuries can happen when you least expect them. What seemed like an innocuous collision with both Haziq and Yawar going for the ball, ended up with Haziq suffering from temporary memory loss and severe headache. This, by far, has been the scariest moment of the tournament so far.
2) The Red Card
Football is a passionate sport for both the ones playing and the fans supporting the team. Passion is something you would not want to kick out of any player. However, there is a fine line between being passionate and letting your emotions boil over in the heat of the game.
There has been only one red card shown by me so far in the tournament and, sadly, it was to one of my close friends, and the organizer himself, Alyy Haroon, in his team, Lag FC's 4-4 draw with Jandaar FC. With the score at 3-3, Alyy, the captain and goalkeeper, while already on a yellow for showing dissent to a decision earlier, wandered out of his goal with the ball and lost possession. Jandaar FC's Yahya won the ball, although there was some physical contact after he touched the ball before tapping it into the open goal. Alyy did not like the decision and let the referee, that would be me, have it. After one too many choice words, I had no choice but to unfortunately give my friend a second yellow and a red. His team was now a goal down and their captain had just been sent off. Luckily for Alyy, and thankfully for me, his team managed to get a late equalizer and get a very important point from that game.
After the game, Alyy came up to me and we agreed that what happened was in the heat of the moment. I have to admit, I'm a very passionate football fan and player whenever I play it and maybe if I was in his place, I'd have done the exact same thing. I know Alyy, he's a winner and he was only trying to lead by example for his team by coming out of his area and leading an attack. In the end, his emotions got the better of him. I have to admit, after every thing was set and done, after his team got a late equalizer and Alyy and I made up, I breathed a sigh of relief too.
1) The Goal That Never Was
Being a referee is a hard enough job as it is without the referee being too stuck up to accept a mistake. And that's exactly what I did in one match between Footy FC and Jandaar FC.
With the game evenly poised at 1-0 to Footy FC, Footy striker and captain, Abdul Hannan, received the ball on the edge of the opposition area with a defender right next to him and the keeper to beat. The defender went to ground, making contact with the striker as he committed a foul. Me, the referee, with the whistle in my mouth, blew immediately without waiting to see the play develop. What happened next was Hannan regaining his balance just enough to fire a shot past the opposition keeper into the far corner. It all seemed to happen within a couple of seconds as Hannan celebrated but the Jandaar FC players claimed to have stopped after hearing the whistle. And that's really how it should've been. What followed next was one of the most stupidest instinctive, judgment calls I've made in my life, not just counting playing or refereeing in football games. I allowed the goal to stand as in my mind the whistle had not affected the shot and the keeper's attempt to save the shot. In hindsight, I shouldn't have blown the whistle in the first place and allowed advantage. Second, once I had blown the whistle, I should've stuck to my decision and brought the play back for a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. However, I chose the third, most stupid, option of allowing the goal to stand. Furthermore, I refused to listen to the advice of the organizer, Alyy, standing outside as the league scorer and my assistant referee, choosing to stick to my original decision instead of changing it again.
After the match, my curiosity and regret got the better of me as I went online to a professional referees' website called AskTheRef.com, where I told them about the situation and what happened. In their reply, they cited one of the most famous controversial incidents in a high-profile game as an example for me. The 2006 Champions League final, Jens Lehmann's red card for a foul on Barcelona' Samuel Eto'o which could have been prevented had the referee let the play go on and allowed Ludovic Giuly to tap home into an empty net.
Hopefully, there is less controversy and more entertainment to come as the tournament gets ready to enter its knockout stage!
I have been a Manchester United fan since 2006. I remember my first full match like it was yesterday. United started the 2006/07 season with a resounding 5-1 win over Fulham thanks to goals from Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. United were 4-0 up inside 20 minutes and the team played some of the most sumptuous football I had ever seen.
For me, it had always been a distant dream to be finally able to go and watch my favourite team play live and in person. When it finally became a reality on the 3rd of November, 2016, it was an experience I will never forget. Studying in Turkey has opened so many opportunities for me, many of which I take for granted on a daily basis. Being back in Pakistan, I would not be able to do, or have access to, most things that I have in Turkey.
Last semester, from January to June, I had the opportunity to go and study in Barcelona, Spain. There I fulfilled another dream, getting to see the Camp Nou stadium, home of the European Champions (at the time), FC Barcelona. It also happened to be the scene of my favourite club, Manchester United's, greatest night in its history. 26 May, 1999, United faced German side Bayern Munich in the final of the European Cup at Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium and thanks to two very, very late goals, won the tournament in dramatic fashion. So to be there, have the opportunity to sit in the stands and trying to visualize those moments reliving themselves in front of you was an overwhelming experience. Also, I got to see the world's best player (my opinion), Lionel Messi, mere 20 feet away from me, kicking a football. I could not believe my luck.
Manchester United came to Istanbul to play Fenerbahçe in the Europa League, a competition befitting their current mediocre state, with all due respect to the competition. No matter what the occasion would have been, I was not going to let this opportunity pass. and no matter what you say or might have heard about Turkish football fans, they know how to create an atmosphere at a stadium.
Before the match, I had bought the tickets a month in advance and despite some last-minute complications with the ticket, there was no way I was going to miss this game. Even if I had an exam the next day (which I didn't, luckily!), I would still have gone. And I would've missed my exam with no regrets. Yes, you read that right.
I travelled to Istanbul from Bilkent, in Ankara, at around noon on Thursday with the match due to kick-off at 9 in the evening. I was travelling with my friend, Aish, and we bought our bus tickets on the spot and they ended up being very cheap, 30 Turkish liras per person to Istanbul is not that bad. Plus, we good seats in our bus so the journey ended up being not so bad.
We reached Istanbul with almost 4 hours still to kick-off. We quickly reached the stadium and got the final process of our ticket done and, at last, we had our single-entry tickets in our hand. We went inside the stadium one and a half hour before kick-off.
Before the match started, me and my friend ran into a fellow fan who responded in English to a question I asked in Turkish by saying that he did not speak Turkish. Surprised, I also continued in English and asked him where he was from? He replied saying Iraq. I then asked him who does he support, with a feeling that I already knew the answer. He hesitated for a second, scared I'm sure of who I might be or my motives for asking that question. He then answered "Manchester, but I have to sit with the Fenerbahçe supporters." I laughed and said to him "us too, bro, don't worry" and then to see the relief on his face once he realized I wasn't going to punch him for supporting Manchester United against a Turkish team was very amusing, to say the least.
The noise at the Camp Nou in Barcelona was nothing compared to Fenerbahçe. Not for one minute of the entire 90 did I get to sit down and have a breather.
Insane. Crazy. A TV screen cannot do justice to the hostile reception United received at the Şükrü Saraçoğlu stadium tonight. Nothing can compare to this experience. No tourists, no casual fans, just 30,000+ passionate, fanatic, crazy, my-type-of football fans gathered to support their favourite team. For all the talk about United's great away support, you couldn't hear a word from the away end tonight. Absolutely no regret about sitting with the Fenerbahçe fans.
Nevertheless, it was a poor performance and it was very hard to keep acting like you were supporting Fenerbahçe instead of United.
I was lucky to see three great, GREAT goals. Moussa Sow might just have won the Puskas Award. Wayne Rooney was the only one not intimidated by the atmosphere while others around him wilted under the pressure.
You can go to Camp Nou, Bernabeu or even Old Trafford, I'm sure, but you will not find the type of atmosphere anywhere in Europe that Turkish fans in Istanbul bring to their stadiums. If I had to do this whole one-day trip to Istanbul again, I wouldn't change a thing. And I honestly don't know what I have done in my life to deserve this.