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Made in Pakistan – What They Think of Soccer

Written May 27, 2013 by Mike Slatton, w/ content contributed by Azfar Ahmed Farooqi & Wajahat Ullah


In the late 1990’s, there was a collective outcry from the international soccer community to ban the use of soccer balls/footballs made in Pakistan.  It was common to hear stories of children working up to 10 hours a day, sewing ball covers together.  Pakistani manufacturing companies would say that children were preferred because they had nimble, flexible fingers.  The soccer community argued that the children were cheap labor and more easily intimidated than adults. The average pay for a day’s work was about 60 cents, and would  yield about 3 soccer balls.  In the end, soccer won – sort of – and now the balls are (mostly) produced by adults.  Most of these adults live in  Sialkot, Pakistan.

At their peak in 2000, Pakistan produced about 75% of all soccer balls made in the world.  Many of those were for soccer equipment giant, Adidas.  Today, production has dropped to about 40% of all footballs in the world (China wins in QUANTITY), but Pakistan is still recognized as “the World’s greatest manufacturer of soccer balls“.  With the exception of the Jubilani ball at the 2010 World Cup (a great lesson for Adidas), Pakistan is the preferred manufacturer of game balls for all major FIFA tournaments.   This is directly related to their superior hand-stitching abilities, un-matched by anyone else in Asia, or the world.

Soccer in Pakistan

Soccer/football is the most popular sport in the world and is passionately played and followed by BILLIONS in over 200 countries in the world. From South America to Europe, Africa to Asia, football is loved by more than 3.5 billion people and treated like a religion by a large section of the world’s population.  In Pakistan, the passion and dedication of football lovers rivals that of any other country in the world, but it’s poor infrastructure and lack of facilities for the development of the game greatly restricts the opportunities available to them.  Soccer also takes second place to the world’s OTHER most popular sport…

Wickets & Bats

street-cricket-pakistan2Doesn’t it make sense that the largest manufacturer of soccer balls in the world would be extraordinarily passionate about the most popular game in the world?  But, ask most Pakistani’s what their favorite game is and you might be surprised to here cricket.

No.  You won’t hear crickets.  You’ll hear about the game – Cricket.  Don’t know what cricket is?  Well, it’s the 2nd most popular sport in the world.

Cricket is the No. 1 sport in Pakistan, and is a game played with wickets, a ball and a bat.  In fact, since the country came into being in 1947, Pakistan isn’t just infatuated with cricket – Pakistan’s national cricket team is one of the greatest in the world! The team has won 8 continental and international championships since 1992, including the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1992, and the most recent T20 World Cup in 2009 (a World’s “best of the best” tournament – making Pakistan the best of the best-of-the-best). With that kind of competition, how does soccer fare?

Stay Classy, Pakistan

“Castes” are a religious, historical and socio-cultural system of classifying people and are deeply integrated into the society of Pakistan. With that in mind, for decades, soccer was known as a poor man’s game. This was in part due to the man deemed “The Pakistani Pele”: Abdul Ghaffor.

The Pakistani Pele of Lyari - Abdul-Ghafoor-MajnaBorn August 3rd, 1938 in Saifi Lane, Baghdadi – one of the historic neighborhoods of Lyari, Karachi – Ghaffor was well known to the local soccer community as the boy with the magic feet. At 19 years old, Ghafoor began his professional career playing for the local team of Saifi Sports in his cramped community of Lyari. From there, his career took him all over Asia. He played on professional teams in Karachi and throughout Pakistan, as well as representing his country in international matches that featured defeats of China and the USSR in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He finally retired from playing in 1974, but coached in Lyari until his health sidelined him for good in 2000.

Ghaffor died in 2012, but his legacy survives in the players, young and old, who represent the 98 registered soccer clubs that play on 11 football grounds and in two stadiums in Lyari – home to over 600,000 people.


Today, Lyari isn’t just poor; it’s a notorious slum, home to drug lords in densely populated Karachi (population: 23.5 million). Riddled with bullet holes forged by gangs of drugs dealers, Lyari is the most corrupt, most violent and most passionate soccer community in the country.  Lyari is the motherland of Pakistani soccer, much like St. Louis, Missouri is the motherland of American Soccer. Not only did Ghaffor live there, but in the 1960’s and 1970’s the entire Pakistani national team was from Lyari.  That legacy has cemented Lyari as THE hot-bed of soccer in Pakistan, and if a young player can establish himself there, he immediately becomes a candidate for the national team and every professional team in Pakistan.

At least that’s the way it USED to be.

The World At Their Feet – Karachi United Football Foundation from Karachi United on Vimeo.

Ghaffor was, without argument, the greatest footballer Pakistan has ever had, but his greatness had no appeal for anyone other than soccer purists, most of which were very poor.  So, as great as Ghaffor was, his place in the socio-economic structure of Pakistan established the game he represented as the sport of peasants.

General Pakistani Thoughts of Soccer

  • Abdul Ghafoor Majna was a great footballer.
  • Ghafoor lived in Lyari and was poor.
  • Soccer is a poor man’s game.

Until the last decade or so, football was only popular with people from the lower income classes who revered Abdul Ghaffor and were directly or indirectly influenced by him. Most of those people, of course, lived primarily in Lyari, as well as the mostly rural area of Baluchistan Province – but thanks to technology, things are changing.

The Motherland – Lyari, PK

Professional soccer match in Pakistan

Professional soccer match in Pakistan

Thanks to the Internet, cable TV (made legal in Pakistan in 2000) and European football powerhouses like Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United selling their products internationally to less mainstream & outlying markets, soccer is gaining in popularity at a steady rate in Pakistan.  Over the last decade or so, the middle and privileged classes in the bigger cities have become very involved in the sport.  This of course has created a huge contrast between the facilities present in the larger cities such as Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi etc. and the underprivileged areas like Lyari, and lower Punjab.

Today, Lyari is quickly becoming just a piece of Pakistani soccer history. Drug cartels, government corruption, the death of Abdul Ghafoor Majna and the growing popularity of the game among the middle classes, is rapidly pushing Lyari to the bottom of the pile. Pakistan is quickly becoming a football “pay-for-play” nation, where the best facilities are only available to those that can afford it. What always made soccer such a great game to play was the fact that you only needed a ball and a little room. Since the middle class of Pakistan is realizing the game’s potential to produce revenue, soccer will soon become a symbol of class warfare, as Lyari works to re-establish it’s position as the pinnacle of soccer talent.

pakistani-child-kicking-soccer-ballLike in the United States, “the beautiful game” is becoming more popular among Pakistan’s children and adolescents, who can be seen playing in the streets and in organized clubs.  On weekends, if the weather is bad, you’ll find young fans watching international games at home, in restaurants and cafes.  Just like in America, you’ll hear football fans cheering on their teams, analyzing game play, cursing referees for calls against their teams and arguing with their friends after the game.

Compared to cricket, though, Pakistani soccer is decades away from being more than just a children’s game.


About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. This relates to life - not just soccer."

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