It seems like it's been ages since the World Cup has ended. The teams are already getting ready for a new season, while international football is heading for a few months of break.
As usual, in Brazil, the expectations were high almost as the Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro, but they ended up being eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Red Devils of Belgium
While the whole country was disappointed and upset, people far 10,000 kilometres from Brazil were sad as well. Welcome to Lyari, a neighbourhood in the city of Karachi, Pakistan, and one of the biggest strongholds of “Seleção Canarinho” fanbases outside Brazil. In Lyari there are more than 600,000 inhabitants, and unlike the majority of Pakistan that are passionate about cricket, Lyari is famous for its immense craze for football, and especially Brazil. The neighbourhood is even known as "Little Brazil". During the World Cup, Lyari streets were decorated and the Brazilian flag was the most common item on the neighbourhood walls.
We interviewed Bilal Hassan, a Pakistani photo journalist, who told us a bit more about the reality of the neighbourhood, its relationship with football and its unusual connection to Brazil.
Bilal, thank you for speaking with us at BabaGol. Tell us a bit about the situation of Lyari. What are the living conditions in the neighbourhood?
Thank you so much for having me. Lyari is an extremely vibrant neighbourhood with its own unique culture and traditions. For many years the area has been neglected by the state, hence it ended up becoming a pretty dangerous place. Until not too long ago, the area was rife with gang wars and drug related violence. I’ve been living in Karachi for well over 18 years but I’d never gone near Lyari until 2-3 years back once the political situation in the area normalised. Thankfully now the area is at peace thanks to an intense police and army operations in the neighbourhood. Despite the current peace, Lyari still is a very overlooked part of Pakistan’s financial capital – Karachi. Parts of the area lack basic sanitation. Schools and hospitals are below standard. It’s unfortunate but at times it feels like a completely different city, let alone a different country altogether.
How come the people of the region fell in love with the Brazilian national team?
A large faction of Lyari’s citizens have African heritage, they were brought to Pakistan by the Arabs in the 17th-18th century during the early days of the slave trade. Now hundreds of years later many of these citizens intermarried with people from other races in the country, therefore their children have very unique and distinctive features. Whenever you ask someone in Lyari why he supports the Brazilian football team, the immediate answer you’ll get is because a lot of the players look like us. Later on they’ll also tell you that they can also personally relate to the struggles of the millions of Brazilians who live in Favelas across the country. They believe that they too have been left behind and neglected by their respective nation and struggle through similar trials and tribulations at life, and that their mutual love for football makes the union with Brazil even more special.
How were the days when the Brazilian national team played in the World Cup? Did people get emotional?
Oh, it was a constant party. Whenever someone would score the entire neighbourhood would erupt with joy. Every second household in the area had a Brazil flag mounted on top of its rooftop. After Brazil got eliminated the entire place went into mourning. It was as if Pakistan had lost a major Cricket game. Seriously.
Do people of Liary know some Brazilian football clubs? Which player do they admire the most?
Not a lot of people know about Brazilian clubs over here. But I’ve met some hardcore Brazil fans who’ve spoken about clubs like Corinthians and Flamengo. A Player? Neymar, Neymar, Neymar. Everyone loves Neymar. For a second you’d think Neymar was from Lyari and not from Brazil. There are posters and wall murals of him everywhere in the neighbourhood.
Speaking now of the country as a whole: Does the passion for Brazil expand all over Pakistan or only in Lyari?
No not as much as Lyari. Lyari is pretty special this way.
Are there Pakistanis who speak Portuguese? Do you believe that there are similar habits among the inhabitants of the two countries?
Ha! I’ve never met a Pakistani who speaks Portuguese, but you never know. There might just be someone in the country who does. After all, Pakistan is a big country with a big population of 210 million people. I think there are many similar habits between the two countries - Brazil & Pakistan like we love food, meals can go on for hours, we are very close to our families and we always love a good party.
Is there a local football club in Lyari? If so, tell us what you know about it.
There are actually many clubs in the hood. Unfortunately, like the neighbourhood itself, they don’t get the same level of funding and support as clubs in more upscale parts of the city do. Karachi’s most well-known football club Karachi United recruits a lot of its top players from Lyari. The People’s football stadium in Lyari is one of the largest football stadiums in the country.
How did you feel when you heard that Lyari was all over the news in Brazil during the World Cup?
It felt really nice. I always felt sad for the people of Lyari because they love the Brazilians so much, but the Brazilians had no idea about this, so they couldn’t love them back or show their appreciation for the Lyarians. I really sincerely hope we can build on this relationship further and strengthen our ties with one another.
Besides the Seleçao, is there admiration for other teams in the country?
Yes, there’s a huge following for Argentina, Portugal and Germany.
How is football faced in the country? Is it a national passion?
It’s a complex situation. After cricket, football is hands down the most popular game in the country. It’s both watched and played with a lot of passion across the streets of the country. Unfortunately, the local football federations are rampant with corruption and nepotism, therefore we’ve never been able to produce a proper star team. To get a better idea of the situation check out this song down below by this rap group from Lyari. They talk about the issues they face while trying to play football in Pakistan.
Would you like to send a message to the BabaGol football community and the Brazilian fans?
Thank you so much for all the love and appreciation guys, I hope to welcome you all in Karachi someday. I’d love for you all to come and see the talent and passion our local football heroes have for the beautiful game with your own eyes. Muito Obrigado.