25 November 2009 ~ There are websites where you can rant about your team's misfortunes and discuss transfer rumours. Then there are sites like footballpakistan.com, which is looking to change the fortunes of a nation. The site, which began in 2003, aims to improve the infrastructure of the game in Pakistan as well as attract players from Europe and beyond to play for the country of their parents. The site has over 500 members based in Britain, Germany and elsewhere. Like fans of Championship Manager trawling the world's leagues for gems, these members have put in the groundwork to identify and get in touch with players who could be eligible, then talk their clubs into releasing them for fixtures.
A number of British-born footballers have now opted to play in the green and white of the national team. The first to go over was former Leicester City trainee Usman Gondal, who played in a friendly series with India in 2005. Later in the year, it was the turn of defender Zesh Rehman. At the time, he was playing in the Premier League with Fulham and many hoped his good form could see him called up to the England Under-21 team. When that didn't happen, Rehman recognised that opting for Pakistan was his most realistic chance of having an international career.
More players have followed Rehman and Gondal's example: the likes of Adnan Ahmed (Ferencvaros), Amjad Iqbal (Bradford Park Avenue) and Atif Bashir (a German-born defender playing for Bridgend Town) can call themselves international footballers. Footballpakistan.com's work is not just confined to finding players. Austrian George Kottan was hired to become the national coach by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) earlier this year. But it was the determined canvassing by members of the website which brought him to the attention of the PFF. The site has no formal connection but the federation regularly seek advice from its members.
Some members of of the site have now acquired an interest in PMC Athletico Faisalabad, a team in the semi-professional Pakistan Premier League (PPL). Most of the PPL's 14 teams are connected to major companies in the country such as the Water and Power Development Authority, National Bank of Pakistan plus the Pakistan army and navy. Although state broadcaster Pakistan Television have their own side there is little TV coverage of football. There is talk of private broadcaster GEO TV showing the last fixtures in December but until then fans have to make do with following domestic and national developments on the site.
In the short term the aim of footballpakistan.com is to improve Pakistan's placing in the FIFA rankings, which currently stands at 161. The team will get a chance to do that at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, which kicks off in Bangladesh on December 5. The overseas-based Pakistani players who make up a third of the 18-man squad will be hoping to return from Asia with a winners' medal. For the members of footballpakistan.com a win in Bangladesh will give them great satisfaction, but their work is far from over. Zohaib Rashid