Where are the 'Green Shirts'?

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by asrar737, Mar 16, 2010.

  1. asrar737

    asrar737 FHF Regular Player

    Sep 13, 2006
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    My search for the Pakistan hockey jersey started on March 2, the third day of the 2010 Hockey World Cup when Pakistan edged number-three ranked Spain 2-1. It was a surprising result as no one had expected the high-flying Spaniards to be outgunned by the ‘green shirts’. The outcome was especially pleasing to fans who had witnessed an inaugural day pummelling of the Pakistanis at the hands of hosts India.

    True, the Spaniards experienced a blip but Pakistan did show some fight. Shakeel Abbasi's runs from the half-line into the Spanish D, as he zigzagged between the defenders were a pleasant throwback to the days when individual wizardry alone could win you matches. Abbasi's display prompted many at Karachi's Sports Bar to compare his skill to Argentinean striker Lionell Messi. “The ball just seems like it’s stuck to him,†the small group of fans said while comparing his penetrative moves.

    Although a 2-1 win for Pakistan was a positive result, many experts believed the route to the semi-finals was an uphill - if not impossible -task. The moment, however, was welcome respite, so much so that it drove enthused colleagues from Singapore to inquire, “Where can we find Pakistan jerseys?†I paused to recall an instance where I may have spotted a white jersey with green trim or the alternate green jersey with white trim hanging in some sports shop. My photographic journey into the past did not yield any positive results, so I took it upon myself to find a Pakistan hockey jersey for the visiting supporters. But before I set out on my trail I asked them why was it that they wanted a Pakistani jersey? “They're pretty popular,†they said. Surprising, since the last time Pakistan won the World Cup was in 1994. Nonetheless I set out the next morning.

    The search started in Clifton and Defence, two of the more upscale areas in Karachi but ones where finding sports equipment is relatively easy, albeit a little expensive. Five stores but no score. Some hours later I came to a store that claimed to be a leader in sports goods. Everything from full-body, state-of-the-art swimsuits and the latest Manchester United jersey but no 'green shirt.' It seemed a little odd since the practice by stores is to stock up on merchandise for a particular sport during its World Cup. At least that's the case with football, cricket and even tennis during the slams. But then again, it could have been the fact that people in Clifton and Defence were just not a big market for hockey as were the 'Rooneys' and 'Kakas.'

    Thursday March 4, I decided to give Karimabad and Nazimabad a shot - humbler localities but ones known for their sporting talent and street smart people. As Pakistan prepared to take on a dominating England side who had already beaten favourites Australia in their first game, I proceeded on my own mission hoping tradition was still alive in these areas. I checked out the two major stores in the area but both were overloaded with cricket equipment. Even the street-side stalls did not bring about any positive match. The day promised much but in the end disappointed, just like Pakistan’s 5-2 loss to England. Pakistan had matched England well in the first half but lost steam and focus in the second to go down from 2-2 to 5-2.

    The same night I asked a senior sports reporter, with a keen eye on hockey, about whether he knew where the Pakistani jerseys would be available. “You’ll probably need to take them off the players’ backs,†he joked. “Stores just don’t want to keep stuff that doesn’t sell. Your best bet is to ask the federation or the players. The players were handing their jerseys out during the Champions Challenge Cup in Argentina. They were going fast and were especially popular with the women,†he added. I recalled an instance during the tournament when a local expert referred to Pakistan as the “kings of hockey†but failed to understand how they were still viewed in that regard ranked number seven in the world at that time.

    Tuesday March 6, Pakistan were preparing to take on South Africa who had suffered the worst ever World Cup defeat in history at the hand of Australia. The Aussies turned on the style to beat South Africa 12-0 and in the process eclipsed the previous record held by Pakistan when they beat New Zealand 12-3 in 1982. The Pakistanis needed to beat the South Africans with a similar margin to hold on to any hopes of reaching the semi-finals. What followed was South Africa’s first ever win over Pakistan in the history of the game. Pakistan were eliminated from the semi-finals race and with the remaining two games against power-packed Australia and a lowly Canada, a finish among the top 5-6 teams was the eventual goal.

    My goal, however, remained the same: to find a green shirt. A chance visit to Lahore presented an opportunity to further scan the markets and since the Pakistan Hockey Federation is based in the city it seemed the most logical place to find related merchandise. As I boarded the plane the attendant was passing out the daily newspaper. Splashed across the front page was Pakistan’s shock loss. Through the course of the flight I got to discuss the slump with a banker on his way to a meeting in Lahore. For survey purposes, I jumped at the opportunity to ask him right away whether he recalled ever seeing a Pakistan hockey jersey in stores. The answer was an emphatic no, “not even during the 90s,†he said. “Somewhere between the introduction of expensive astroturfs and Javed Miandad’s famous last-ball six against India, hockey just lost its mass appeal,†he added. That explained the lack of ‘official’ merchandise in the stores to some extent. But still it was the World Cup, did the retailers have no interest or was it the public or both? The two days spent in Lahore and the several markets scanned still did not reveal any ‘green shirts’, however, I did manage to get a few numbers and tips on stores in Sialkot, the city that supplies the world with sports goods.

    Pakistan were to play Australia on March 8, their toughest match yet, but one that had little meaning attached to it. The feeling among fans of the ‘green shirts’ was one of indifference. There was also a realisation that the current lot of ‘stars’ in the Pakistani side who were nearing their mid-thirties could be the last generation of recognised players from the country. The country had managed to remain in the hearts of hockey fans around the world on the back of legendary performances in the 70s, 80s and 90s but who would carry the torch now? Pakistan lost to Australia 2-1, a decent result considering the form of the Kookaburras. The despair did not properly set in until the ‘green shirts’ unbelievably lost their last game against minnows Canada 3-2 on March 11 to finish at the bottom of the table. It was the worst ever showing for the country that had introduced the idea of the World Cup for hockey in 1970.

    The search for the jerseys still continued until March 15, two days after Australia had defeated Germany in a thrilling contest in the final to win the World Cup. The stores that I called in Sialkot sounded quizzical when I inquired about the merchandise and replied with sarcasm. “You mean the team that finished last and has now resigned?†they remarked. All members of the Pakistani squad resigned after finishing last in the World Cup leaving the game in the country at the crossroads.

    My mission was a failure too. All I found was information that a company called Forestblu made the Pakistan jerseys and that stores did not even bother to keep cheap replicas. So I decided to present the visiting supporters of Pakistan a couple of hockey sticks, the next best thing I guess. The hockey sticks and other related hi-tech equipment was available in abundance at stores but the green shirts, nowhere to be seen.


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