(Parental Advisory- bad language)
During the early 1990s, an amazing thing happened to the flourishing British Pakistani community in Aylesbury. An event, I am proud to proclaim, that I was part of.
So what was it?
A royal visit to the Pakistani ghetto? (Fleet Street, Havelock Street and New Street)
An opportunity to meet Pakistani cricketing icons like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis? (I’m sure some of the guys actually fancied Waqar…)
A chance to win free PIA tickets?
No, the amazing thing was this. Against all odds, against the most treacherous obstacles and the threat of being sent to a boot camp in Mirpur (in other words, your chacha’s house), a group of Asian teenagers from Aylesbury started up the first ever, authentic British Pakistani football team.
And guess what we called it?
And guess what else?
I was in it (top goal scorer for the first season).
And another thing: we were actually pretty decent!
We won some matches. We got sponsored by a local business. We were in a proper league called, wait for it, “The Wycombe Star League”, in which the White and Black boys played. We had training sessions with cones, bibs and everything! Our manager and assistant managers were only seventeen and eighteen years of age and we actually survived for a whole season!
But then, Allah taught us a lesson through the manager of another football team. A West Indian man by the name of Ramswell (not his real name). Our arch enemy. Our rival. Our nemesis! His treachery set us up for an almighty fall. But then again, it has to be said, we did, kind of, er, cheat. Just a little bit… Alright, we were guilty of cheating a lot!
So, here’s the true story of our rise and fall, our birth and death, our exhilaration and our misery. We learned a valuable life lesson. We really did. And now when I look back at this venture, I see it as an event that Allah, in His wisdom, put us in to teach us the following: be truthful, try your best, work hard and then rely on God. But whatever you do, don’t cheat, because it will taint the great work that you do.
Aylesbury Asians football team arose almost out of thin air. It just happened.
Before our team, us Paks used to play all the time in the local park, the Alfred Rose in Elmhurst near town or in the car park of nearby stores like MFI. We used to have these football matches of Fleet Street versus Havelock Street. (We still do occasionally, although we’re not as nimble as we used to be…) I came from New St, which was the road above. So the New street boys were regularly transferred between Havelock and Fleet Street. I must say that we were all pretty good players from New Street and that both Havelock and Fleet Street were constantly vying for our participation. And I can categorically say without a hint of arrogance that you can’t deny quality, can you?
Anyway, these matches were legendary; the stuff of local Elmhurst folklore; epic, beautiful! Picture it, around thirty Pakistani boys; some with flashy new Nike Airs; some with shameful ZEES; some dancing around on the pitch in full salwar qameez; some barefooted and some still in their school uniform ponging out the park. Yes picture it! All of us playing the beautiful game in a picturesque park in Buckinghamshire, urging our fellow teammates on with such empowering language like: “What are doing you stupid Garndoo!” And language encouraging healthy competition with our opposing team like: “You watch when the game finishes you barstard, you watch!”
You would never have guessed you were standing in a quintessential English park in a Conservative town in Buckinghamshire. More like the mud plains of Rawalpindi!
Anyway, we had some brilliant players. Really, I mean it this time. They were and still are: the Raja Brothers. Fiaz (Fizzie) Ajaz (Jizzy) Golfraz (Goofie) Imitiaz (Immie- the eldest) and Shefraz (Sheffie- the youngest. Masha Allah, all of them were gifted with natural football skills, but the lion’s share, it has to be said, had gone to Fizzie and Jizzy. Fizzie was often compared to Brazilian players for his composure and ability to hit the ball with sheer power and Jizzy could have become a professional player, but sadly, it didn’t work out. There were no Asian role models for football at that time. Still aren’t, unfortunately. I wonder why? Anyway, they were Havelock Street lads.
Then you had the Pathan brothers, the irrepressible Imdad (Dibble) or (The Wall- what he likes to be called now) Niknam, Mumtaz, Muhammad (Moey- well before “Mo” Farah) and there was Tariq, Banaras,Farooq and Jahangir: hard workers on the pitch, strong, reliable players. There was Zaid Shah (Zaycher) A truly gifted player! His left foot was like a canon and he picked up all his close ball control skills basically by playing on the street. He would eventually become a player of Aylesbury Asians who led us to many victories, but his involvement, through no real fault of his own, lead to our downfall. I will come back to him later. They were Fleet Street lads.
Oh, and on the subject of Fleet Street, how can I forget the Mukhtar brothers! Ahmar, who would become our manager, an amazing individual, a legend, a physically disabled young man who was the heart and soul of our team and also a brilliant tactician… Shamar, Kumar or Ronald Koeman we used to call him because he had a fierce free-kick (at that time, we absolutely looooved the Holland dream team of Gullit, Rijkaard, Van Basten and Koeman). With them was also our wonderful, blessed brother Omar, may Allah have mercy on his soul, a funny, good-hearted young man, who had a wonderful sense of humour and personality. We all miss him still and hope to join with him and our other loved ones in a blessed place beyond time, insha Allah.
Havelock street also had some fine players like Ednan, a natural striker, (I still can not forget his typical football kit- the trademark Levis 501s and Adidas Kick) Masud, quick feet, full of tricks (Sidi Mas, the maulvi-our spiritual mentor who used to also work in the Odeon cinema and treat us to free movies) Dahud (Bogs- prolific goalscorer, passionate, tricky, nutmegger- I think he used to go to bed in his Arsenal shirt) Imitiaz (or Immie- he was and still is a naturally gifted player) Farooq (Froggers- brilliant defender- likes to foul though…) Liaquat (hard to play against, strong on the ball, feisty) Typo (six foot six- enough said) Zubair (Buzzy Bear- he was like a Pathan version of Rocky Balboa because he used to speak like him-great player) Khalid (Coldie- the goal keeper- surly and funny) Adil (another hard worker), Naveed (liked to try out kung-fu kicks on the ball), there was and still is BOOM, brother Naeem, or could we dare to make the comparison, the Pakistani Maradonna? Who even looks like our saviour Diego! He could have gone far, could’ve…The pity was and is that many like him could’ve gone far, but Allah Most High has different paths for all us… Back to the lads, yes, and then there was me, Nov, and my older brother, Wasim. Yeh, I was pretty good but I’m proud to say that my big brother Wasim played well for local teams and was well-known for his natural talent on the ball. There were other characters from the surrounding streets like Azad (Zardie) and Abbas (Barsee- every other kick he did was a kung-fu kick).Their older brother, Khallaaq (or T J Hooker- don’t ask me where he got that nickname from) Sultan (solid, unbreakable, you’ve guessed it, one of our goalkeepers). There were also Abid and Wajid; the two brothers, who were strong and skilful players, and great personalities.
Bad-tempered, crazy, exhilarating, death-defying! That was the character of a Havelock and Fleet street match. Sometimes twelve aside, thirteen aside, sixteen aside. We didn’t care. We just loved to play footie and that was it. Our parents never thought of taking us to local football clubs to play and train and pick up skills. We were never really encouraged. Our parents were just too busy trying to make a life in Britain.
But we didn’t fret; we didn’t complain. We just played instead. For hours and hours. These matches were a unique way of all of us lads, getting together and basically enjoying ourselves. Feeling the exhilaration of a football game, which took our minds off the problems and challenges we faced as children growing up in a country that was and wasn’t really our home. Football was something that united us. The mosque brought us altogether as well. But at that time football held our love more. Us, who were from different areas of Pakistan: Azad Kashmir (Sensai, Qotlee, Mirpur, Gujarkhan, Dadyaal) Punjab (Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Lahore) Peshawar (villages nearby like Salykhana). Us who were divided by our favourite football teams: Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs. And us who were living in a country where we did feel different and look different to our fellow White and Black school friends. Football brought us together in those days.
Anyway, it transpired one day, that Ahmar Mukhtar and Froggers wanted to start up a team. We all discussed it, me, Froggers, Amar, Nav, Adil, Kumar, Zubair and I can’t remember who else, while playing volley outside Kumar’s house on the road. Pardon the language, but this is how it went:
“Listen, we’re gonna start a team!”
“What do you mean you idiot?”
“A football team you prick, what do you think a netball team?”
“Ha, ha very funny. A skirt would suit you though.”
“Shut up you ugly shit. Your dad would look good in a skirt!”
“Your dad dresses you up in skirts you bastard!”
“Okay, so you wanna start a football team.”
“Yeerr, a football team you thick shit!”
Actually, this wasn’t exactly the conversation, but you can get the gist of our modus vivendi, our unique way of discussing matters, coming to a conclusion and an agreement and then thoroughly taking the piss out of each others’ parents! Our level of speech had much to be desired and when I look back at the way we used to speak, I would be horrified if my kids ever spoke like the way we spoke. We used to think it was cool and tough to curse and use bad language and only later on did we learn from some of the enlightened ones that the tongue reveals what lies in the heart. Noble speech reveals a noble heart like our beloved Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him peace.
So that was it! The word spread around that Ahmar and Froggers were starting up a team, a proper football team that would play in a proper league. Finally, we would experience the same thing as our white and black counterparts at school, attending training sessions and competing against other teams. We could have our own kit; our own name; our own training grounds. The idea dangled in front of us like a ripe apple hanging from a tree, and it was now well within our grasp. To appreciate our excitement at this prospect, you have to realise that us British Pakistanis, although being good at football, we didn’t have a hope of playing at a more organised level with a manager and a team. We didn’t really have support to take sports further. So we looked at the other boys at school with envy and wild hopes. They would tell us stories of how their matches went over the weekend; they could connect at a different level. We couldn’t relate to all that, but now, insha Allah, we had our own chance to run our own team!
But what would we call our team?
I can’t remember completely but the conversation went something like this.
“Let’s call ourselves: Aylesbury Dynamos!” Nav kicked off with something sensible.
“I know I know!” Announced Kumar enthusiastically, “Aylesbury All-Stars!”
“What about “Paki and Proud!”
“No Fleet Street United!”
“Screw that! New Street United!”
“Shut up! Pakistan FC!”
Suddenly an argument erupted over the name and yelling and shouting rose into the air.
“Wait, stop!” Shouted Ahmar in his slow, inimitable voice: “we’ll call it Aylesbury Asians.”
We stood there silently for a while and let it sink in.
“Mmmm, Aylesbury Asians, got a ring to it.”
“Yer, shows we’re Pakis but from here.”
“That’s a wicked name Ahmar!”
He carried on, “Aylesbury Asians it is then.”
We cheered and started chanting as we kicked the ball around: “Aylesbury Asians! Aylesbury Asians!”
I whispered to one of those present, “the gorei are gonna have a field day with us lot.”
So there it was, our name, our unique team. Aylesbury Asians. So simple, so local and boy did we not know what we were letting ourselves in for!
PART TWO COMING SOON:
How the first training session went;
Our first few matches;
The Stolen Gameboy incident;
A manager who would become our arch enemy: RAMSWELL