It was a burst of massive happiness, a moment of sheer bliss and pride, something few Afghans have experienced much of in the past and thus even more powerful: only moments after Afghanistan won the South Asian Football Federation Championship, defeating India with 2:0, waves of people filled the streets of Kabul and many other Afghan cities, singing, yelling, building bonfires in ditches, dancing around and waving flags (which are now sold out in most shops across town). AAN of course went out to celebrate too, into the wee hours, and for this dispatch we gathered a collection of scenes witnessed during the wild street parties. We also offer more background on Afghan football and the rise of the national team over the past few years. And finally, we provide a list of links to previous AAN reporting on football in Afghanistan, inviting you to read about the courageous resistance of fans during the Taleban time and more. For a match report of the victory against India, look at our separate piece here.
At least for this one day, since Afghanistan won the cup, the country has been as transformed into a happier place. Phone calls and personal encounters in the streets have often been starting with a beaming smile and “tabrik bosha!” – congratulations! The spokesman of Kandahar’s governor, Javid Faisal, announced on Twitter that he would not “post any casualty reports for 24 hours as I am celebrating”. Schools in Kabul the following day were empty because thousands of children went off to try to get a glimpse of the national football team arriving back at the airport or in the Olympic Stadium where the team arrived late this morning to be congratulated. National TV showed pictures of the stadium filling up with tens of thousands of fans, some of them recklessly climbing up the gantry holding the flood lights to get a better view of the new national heroes. After 18 hours of happy craziness, nobody has seemed to be in a hurry for the country to resume its routine. For the whole day, the streets have remained full of fans cruising around in vehicles and singing victory songs out of the windows, accepting new passengers jumping in and singing along, as this picture of a hopelessly overloaded party vehicle from the morning after the victory beautifully illustrates.
Indeed, the morning of 12 September was a seamless continuation of the celebrations of the night before when people took to the streets, dancing attan, playing the new national “football anthem” (a song recorded by six Afghan pop music stars, among them Tawab Arash, Bezhan Jan Kunduzi and Aryana Sayed), leaning out of car windows and shouting “du, du, du” (two, two, two), referring to the two goals that had secured the Afghan victory. Last night, the air was flashing with the green and red of the myriad of Afghan flags sported (see a nice BBC picture collection here). In the face of the huge crowd even the most experienced hawkers and experts of merchandising ran out of Afghan flags in the first 20 minutes. They became the scarcest and most sought after items of the evening. People leaned out of cars’ windows to kiss flags held by passers-by or mounted on the roof of cars. If anyone was lucky enough to have a flag, others would try and snatch it out of their hands with the subtle argument that it didn’t belong to a single individual but to the whole nation.
In the quarter of Old Microrayon the members of a body-builders club had arranged a particularly impressive performance, lifting motorcycles over their heads by the side of the road while shouting “Afghanistan Zindabad!” (long live Afghanistan). Grocers in the Madina Bazaar area of Qalah-e Fatullah were happily throwing buckets of water on the dancing crowd and then – when they ran out – fistfuls of chaka, a sort of sour cream. In Darulaman, people were watching the car parade from atop the traffic bridges, banging against their metal structures, effectively replicating the shots heard all over the city (or seen, as in the case of the many volleys of tracer bullets fired which added to the ’fireworks’ effect). The amount of shooting was such that some international organisations put their staff on lockdown – wary of stray bullets and falling shrapnel. “Spontaneous disarmament”, someone called it, contentedly remarking that a lot of ammunition that might otherwise have killed people had been spent on a new kind of ‘friendly fire’.
Media and social media showed that this was not a Kabul phenomenon only. The match had been anticipated hotly and was followed all over the country. Even in Ghazni city where only one day before, an IED attack had killed eight civilians, the city centre was full with people celebrating.
The night and the following morning altogether felt as if someone had opened a huge valve, letting steam out of an over-pressurised kettle. “I haven’t seen anything remotely like this in my whole life,” said our colleague Ehsan Qaane this morning – he is 26. It was a mostly male spectacle, but there were also mothers with their children in tow standing by the sides of the road and cars full of young women shouting “zindabad” like everyone else. People kept celebrating till late night, stopping homebound cars at each crossroad and kindly asking people to get out and join the dance “just for a minute”.
(to get a feeling of the vibes of the night’s celebrations, watch some videos by AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini here, here, here and here)
Soccer has been quickly become a favorite in Afghanistan, both as a sport played by the youth and watched on television at home. After an early start in the 1920s and renewed efforts from the 1940s onwards, when it became the most popular ‘imported’ sport, football’s progress was stopped by decades of war. Feet kept dribbling footballs on the grass (or in the dust) even during the worst times though and the post-2001 years have seen a slow but steady rebirth of the sport. A Kabul Premier League has been properly organised since 2006, featuring around twelve professional teams from the capital. The country also now has a national league, inaugurated last year with a well-managed and highly entertaining tournament in Kabul where eight teams representing different regions of Afghanistan were pitted against each other (currently the second edition is taking place). The matches are usually played in the Ghazi Stadium, the Kabul facility named after King Amanullah who had it built in 1923 and who first encouraged football in the country; capable of hosting a public of 25,000, it has been thoroughly renovated and upgraded to Olympic stadium in 2011.
Internationally, the Afghan national team has been climbing the FIFA rankings, reaching position n°139 before the start of this year’s South Asian Football Federation Cup in Nepal. It is the top team from this part of the world, a few positions above even India, the regional giant and South Asian Cup holder. Among its recent successes was a match with Pakistan in Kabul on 20 August 2013. It turned into a major triumph because it was a friendly match, officially and factually and Afghanistan won 3-0. During this edition of the South Asian Cup, Afghanistan has been on the crest of a footballing wave. After beating Bhutan 3-0 and Sri Lanka 3-1, and drawing 0-0 against the Maldives, the Afghan Team-e Melli overcame the host team Nepal 1-0 in the semi-finals and has thus reached the final against India. The previous South Asian Cup competition in 2011 saw the same two teams facing each other in a hotly contested final match, with Afghanistan ultimately losing to India 0:4, but only after certain decisions by the referee had heavily affected the match. At least, that’s what many supporters and political analysts in Afghanistan think.
If you feel like reading more
AAN has followed the Afghan passion for football, commenting on some topical moments of its development in Afghanistan, from the courageous resistance of football fans during the Taleban years to the thrill of recent encounters. So, in case you would like to read on, here’s a collection of what we have had to say on ‘the most beautiful game’ (including one dissenting voice for those readers who find football less than exciting).
1) The Afghan Premier League
X-Factor Football: Afghanistan’s New Premier League
Author: Thomas Ruttig / Date: 1 October 2012
BREAKING NEWS: Harirod Storm Swept the Northern Alborz
Author: Fabrizio Foschini / Date: 20 October 2012
2) Historical Matches
Flash to the Past: Football under the Taleban (1)
Author: Kate Clark / Date: 29 June 2010
Flash to the Past: Football under the Taleban (2) – Nobody Shouts “Allahu Akbar”
Author: Thomas Ruttig / Date: 29 June 2010
Flash from the Past: The Wonderful Days of Afghanistan as a Football-Free Zone
Author: Kate Clark / Date: 30 September 2012
3) …and, for something else…
A Note from the (Soccer) Field
Author: Guest / Date: 12 January 2010
Kabuli Youth in Ramazan Nights: A Passion for Futsal and More
Author: S. Reza Kazemi / Date: 1 August 2012
* For further reading on Afghan football, a useful website among others is http://tumblr.footballinkabul.com
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020