Kick-off in Hunza – Our Very Own FIFA Cup in the North 0 1763

Football in Hunza

The sun light flickers like glitter over the jewel blue water of the Hunza River. Rising 8,200 feet above sea level, resting peacefully under the shadows of the snow-clad peaks of the Rakaposhi – Ultar and the Golden Peak, the sweet scent of roses and lillies lingers in the air of the small town of Karimabad, the capital of Hunza. Back in 1998 a bunch of our members ventured here for the first time and landed in Karimabad. Ever since, it has been our home – or headquarters as we like to call it.

The LUMS Adventure Society (LAS) is proudly the largest student run adventure society in Pakistan. It was founded in 1998, with our first members enthusiastically bent upon discovering the treasures veiled in the mountains of Northern Pakistan. As we LASsers like to tell it: “over our 20 year legacy, LAS has been dedicated to exploring new areas and trekking on paths untrodden” Through these 20 odd years, our various expeditions have introduced us to and helped us become ever so familiar with the unrivalled hospitality of the people of the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

LAS carries out a number of activities throughout the year that involve taking trips to the northern areas. Our premier flagship event is the annual May Trip. Shortly after the LAS May Trip 2017, we lost a colleague and a very dear friend, Mr. Shafqat Hussain, or Shafqat Bhai as he generations of LASsers referred to him. The late owner of Cafe de Hunza had gone to great lengths for the development of Karimabad. After his death we realised we had lost family. Consequently, we understood the importance of celebrating family. In order to pay tribute to and celebrate the legacy of development he left behind, we organised the Shafqat Memorial Futsal Tournament during their May Trip 2018. We know that no thank you is enough for all that the people of G-B have done for us. For our vendors, porters and guides, though it might only seem a minute repayment compared to their colossal contributions, it is a way to make clear our intention – we are not a travel company, we truly are a family.

Eight teams from the regions spanning Haramosh to Shimshal were invited to come to Karimabad and play the tournament over 3 days, 26th to the 28th May. This event meant to serve as a basis to unearth talent, as well as promote healthy competition, provide exposure, and encourage growth of sports in this region.

The event kick started with an Opening Ceremony in the afternoon of the 26th of May at the Hilltop Hotel, Karimabad with a trophy unveiling. In zeal and excitement, a marching band lead all 8 teams and LAS representatives towards the football ground. The drumming of the band echoed through the town, breaking the silence of the afternoon. What was happening was never before seen in Karimabad. With each beat of the drum, a new flame of excitement was kindled amongst the inhabitants of the town. While shop keepers and residents alike peeped through their windows, curious spectators on the streets joined in the grandeur of the event. It was really happening. Months of work was coming together.

The flurry of competitive matches saw each team aiming to top their group to cement their place in the semi final. Only the hosts, Karimabad were able to confirm their semifinal spot by the end of day 1. The next day saw the standard of football rise as the teams had become accustomed to the ground and style of play. By the end of day 2, we had our 4 semifinalists in Shimshal, Gilgit, Aliabad and as confirmed in day 1, Karimabad. Day 3 begun with Aliabad and Shimshal kicking of our first semifinal. The mercurial talent on display from Aliabad proved too much for Shimshal who had no answer to the dominance of Aliabad. The latter semi-final was much more competitive with Gilgit coming from behind and nicking the game in its dying moments

To settle the tension created after these two intense matches, LAS played 2 exhibition matches. The first was against the senior team of Karimabad, and as the saying goes ‘old is gold‘, the seniors won. The second match was against the home town of Shafqat Bhai, Hyderabad, which we managed to narrowly win by one goal. These matches too left everyone feeling a strong sense of familiarity, of importance and belonging. The true aim of the event was being fulfilled – finding unity in difference yet at the same time celebrating diversity.

Time to tend to what all the former proceedings had led up to: Gilgit vs. Aliabad, the grand finale. You could see the poise in the eyes of both teams, both fancied taking home the trophy. With the whistle, both teams begun to attack in a match that constantly kept you on the edge of your seat. After 30 minutes there was no winner, meaning both teams had to now endure the drama of penalties. With every kick the whole ground would hold its breath, followed by a deafening roar from each team. It ultimately came down to the Aliabad player who kept his composure and as soon as he the ball left his foot, the whole of Aliabad knew they were crowned Champions of the Shafqat Memorial Futsal Tournament.

It was about 5:30pm. The sun began to set behind the towering mountains, the shadow of the dying sun slowly enveloping the valley. What everyone had witnessed over the last 2 days was an event never seen before. Being involved in its preparations, us LASsers didn’t stop to enjoy the moments that made this event to so great. Bringing people together, celebrating each other, tolerance, entertainment – we did it. And finally acknowledging and witnessing it was a beautiful feeling. From the players to the crowds, men, women children, shopkeepers, everyone felt involved, everyone felt important.

At the Closing Ceremony on the 28th May 2018, prizes were distributed to everyone responsible for the execution of such a grand event. We can not thank Javed Bhai of Hilltop Hotel for 20 years of support with out whom this idea may have stayed, just that, an idea. A special thank you goes to the Agha Khan Youth Foundation and Assistant Commissioner of Hunza without whose help a sporting event of this magnitude could not have been arranged.

This tournament was set to fulfil a set number of goals but it ended up doing so much more. We at LAS want to the world to know that the kind of love we get here in Hunza has been, is and will remain unmatched. And we will go to any lengths to give back to the community that has done so much for us. We are proud to have hosted this tournament and intend on continuing this tradition of celebration and show of gratitude

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