An account of a wonderful Cricket World Cup from – Imran Asghar Head of Media and Communications at @staniarmy and tweets on @Pakcricket_
Mine and Stani Army members journey started way back last summer with the family ballot followed by the public ballot. We had eight different people applying for games and were only successful for a few games. This World Cup was never going to be straightforward.
Every day since we logged into our accounts – some cases multiple times – in the hope of lining up tickets. Eventually come the eve of the tournament everything was covered, India V Pakistan apart. Our policy of not paying, never mind charging, a penny over face value meant our hopes to be at the Mother of all sporting events were pretty dim.
Fast forward to the tournament and we were invited to the ICC Cricket World Cup opening party, as well as BBC Asian Network. I lined up some of my most trusted people to join me. We represented our country to the best of our ability. We were joined by Debbie Knight, who despite being of English heritage, has a love for Pakistan cricket. I first ‘met’ Debbie when I came across people questioning her tweet about getting 8 out 9 Pakistan games in the ballot. I had to defend her – it was her right to apply, and her luck to get. We had soon enough become good friends.
After days, weeks even of planning for the BBC/Opening ceremony we almost nailed it. I couldn’t have been more proud of my group. They were dignified, spoke well and also set a example of what true sportsman spirit is. We also got to meet a Pakistan fan, and ex England blind team player, Hassan Khan. He was so well spoken, very knowledgeable and now hopefully a lifelong member of the Stani Army.
The morning of the West Indies game we left London at 5am. The excitement levels were extreme. I couldn’t contain the inner jubilation, I was 16 the last time the World Cup came to these shores, going by that 20 year ratio I may be 56 the next time the World Cup comes to England. The travel up was great despite being caught by a major accident on the M1. We got to the game on time. Full of voice, front row seats. That is where the good news ended as the performance was woeful. Pakistan didn’t turn up and it was all over by lunchtime. We were truly humbled.
Though that game was awful and the journey back was awful, I got a tweet from Nissan UK which asked me to DM them as I had a reward. When I messaged them they asked for my phone number and email address so they could speak to me. It sounded quite odd. I got a call back which seemed someone speaking to me sitting yards away from the phone. I couldn’t at first catch what they were saying but soon realised what it was about. I was offered 6 tickets for my family to the India V Pakistan game. I had to surprise my father and gift him these tickets. What a day, after all!
Pakistan’s second fixture was back at Trent Bridge, and against the hosts and favourites England. I couldn’t make this game as I had to be at work. It turned out to be a absolute cracker. Pakistan batted first and pulled off a very good total. The game was in the balance and I was on the edge for a lot of it. The one thing I do remember I was watching the game on my phone and 4 customers joined me. They were England fans. The moment Jos Buttler was out I did the most craziest dance. I couldn’t contain my happiness – my World Cup had kick started.
The third fixture bought forward a trip to Bristol. Another early morning while the rain was pouring down. We thought we were crazy to travel with very little chance of cricket being played. Again Nav was the man behind the wheel, driving us up and down the country. Hulkistan winning the best dressed fan was our biggest highlight as the game was called off, more then 2 hours after the last bit of rain… They only covered the square that day.
I did my video with Nissan the following Monday. We set of from my work place and drove around a bit. The plan had changed… my Father wasn’t at home to get a surprise. Everyone else at home knew about it. They needed reassuring as they were convinced I was getting scammed. A hour later we got a call, Dad was home. Finally time to go and surprise him. We went and he was shocked, he absolutely froze for a moment. All the tears and hugs were real. After years of sacrifices he was getting something back. He was going to his first live game in 20 years.
Australia were next for Pakistan. Again because of work I couldn’t make this game. As the game was in Taunton and everyone travelled up a day before. I couldn’t do that because of work. Australia batted first and got off to an absolute flier. They looked set to get 350+ at one stage. Pakistan, led by my own personal favourite Mohammad Amir, staged a remarkable comeback and restricted Australia to 303. Pakistan in reply got off to a very good start but had a customary collapse and lost the game. Watching the game on TV I was demoralised. The feeling that the World Cup could be over had started to creep in. Speaking to the boys travelling home from Taunton, the general feeling was the same as me. We were deflated.
I was sorted for the tickets for Old Trafford for myself and my family. All my friends weren’t. Like every other game, but more, I was getting calls and messages for tickets. The Bharat Army had an allocation of 11,000 from 26,000. Take away corporate and sponsors and less then half went in the ballot. Many fans were still after tickets. I helped people for every game but this time I was hopeless. I was, but our ticket magic man, Razwan (Riz) Iqbal, wasn’t. He always seems to get tickets from the ICC website. The joke going around is he has his whole family on the case, 24/7. He got 4 tickets – Riz, Nav, Hulkistan, Bilal were joining me, my family and Debbie at the game.
We all travelled up the day before. I was taking my family to this game. I couldn’t have been happier. It was immense, nothing could be bigger. We checked into our hotel at 7pm and then went for a meal with the rest. It was real, we had arrived for the biggest game in sport. We had our meal, photos and headed back to the hotel. We had to sleep as we had a big day ahead.
We met up with the production crew at 7.30am for breakfast. We had to leave by 8 for the ground. It was a massive day – the game and also Nissan needing more filming. We arrived at the ground and within 2 minutes I had lost my temper as we were filming. I got father day jibes from a group of around a couple of dozen Indian fans walking past. I had to calm myself down, I had my family with me. We made our way to the ground. Nissan were filming all the time. We got our tickets from Phil Tufnell and finally got go to the game. This was it.
I was told that I had two pitch side tickets too. We could go to the edge of the boundary and soak in the atmosphere. I took my son with me and all we saw was a sea of blue. Easily outnumbered 9-1. How this ballot thing works we have no idea. I could’ve played ‘Where’s a Green shirt’ and been there for ages. It was pathetic. Going back to pitch side though we got to take photos with the World Cup trophy and it was a special moment for me as a father. It was spoilt though – Indian fans boing my son whilst he was getting his photo taken spoilt the day. I was pretty grumpy for the rest of the day. Proud that as a parent I took my children to this game – disgusted at the behaviour though. Add to the fact hundreds of Indian fans were wearing Modi masks, the game itself isn’t even worth mentioning.
Before the India game we had discussed how we can get fans who have given up on the World Cup to get behind us again. I mentioned a long time ago I started a hashtag that was #NeverWillWeGiveUp and it worked. After loads of deliberation we decided with #Pakistans12thMan. There are 11 on the pitch and we were the 12th. We could make a difference. We needed to support the team and be that extra influence the players needed. This was more so after the India game. We needed to act fast. A video emerged of a ‘Pakistani’ abusing the national captain at a shopping centre. Bilal Habshi, a great friend and a Stani Army head figure, drew up a do and don’t do list. We needed action. #Pakistans12thMan had trended in Pakistan the day of the India game so we were doing our second social media campaign. The Stani Army was created to show an identity to British Pakistani fans and that was at risk. Lord’s against South Africa was our test. We had to rise to it.
As a Londoner this was an easy journey though we still left very early. We got to the ground and started creating an atmosphere that I hadn’t seen or heard of before. Slowly the noise started to increase. Pakistan fans were back. In the ground we moved to an area that was empty. I remember Khateeb Khalid coming over to me and saying this place was quiet as there were only 10 of us in the block. The atmosphere started, more joined. Within 30 minutes we had that block packed. The team was performing on the pitch and we were doing our 12th man duties. At this game I met Kaleem. Someone I never knew before but he became a brother for life. Special mentions to the Pakxican, who played the dhol throughout and my brother Raja Ali who really inspired me.
Onto the next game and it was a trip to Birmingham for the game against New Zealand. We left home at stupid O’Clock again and started another journey. This time the car had Hulkistan, Riz & my cousin Jahangir along with his son Umair. We again were at the ground very early and the atmosphere was created. The game was excellent and Shaheen Afridi, Haris Sohail and Babar Azam really got things going. The 12th man was working. Everyone seemed positive. Pakistan leg spinner Shadab Khan even tweeted about how Pakistan’s 12th man was helping the team. We knew we had made a slight difference.
Next up was the second last group game. This time the opposition was Afghanistan. I left home at 3.15am. Nav was back after missing the New Zealand game due to work commitments. We had Riz, Bilal and Khawar with us. Khawar went to every game. Someone I had met the odd time before but had become very good friends by now. On the way up we came across some Afghanistan fans. They were switching lanes, harsh breaking, using the horn at us. At first we thought it was a joke and would soon pass but it was a clearly a way to induce trouble. Raja Ali had sorted out parking for us for most games and had done it again for this game. When we got to the car park, loads of Afghanistan fans were there. They were quite aggressive in their body language.
We got into the ground early. Soon enough we were reading about trouble outside. The game was great. Wonderful game for any neutral to watch. Not so much for fans of either team. That was nerve wrecking. Not helped by political banners flying over the ground. For a period that became the quietest I have been in any game. I started to feel the pressure. Imad Wasim didn’t and saw Pakistan home. Some ugly scenes marred the game. The Afghanistan fans have a long way to go yet. And the few Pakistanis who ran onto the pitch let us down badly.
What followed was England playing India and New Zealand. We needed them to lose one but as the World number one side they came to the fore and won both. India’s approach during their chase was strange. Extremely slow start, followed by solid middle over batting and then not having a go in the last 10. Either way our journey was ended. Beating Bangladesh by 308 runs was not possible. The West Indies thrashing and Bristol washout was hurting.
The evening after the England v New Zealand game Stani Army WhatsApp group got quite emotional. It started with Hulkistan saying “Friday is probably going to be my last game this World Cup watching Pakistan play at the ground, even if we make the semis and the final. I had originally planned to go to only 2-3 games, but with the amazing and legendary help (tickets + travel) from some of you, I’ve been able to go to all the games so far. I’ve had so many amazing experiences, and words can’t express how much I have loved spending every minute of this epic journey with you, the Stani Army family. So on Friday, no matter what happens over the next few days in the other games, I wanna go out in a Stani Army whirlwind, by rocking Lords so much that even long after we have left…..they will still be able to hear Stani Army echoing in the wind!!!”
That was followed by Nav saying “I’m not able to do Friday. However friends for life. Memories. Andd win or lose we did properly.”
It didn’t finish there and next we had Umar Ashraf, from our Birmingham wing say “It’s been unbelievable me and Hamza (his cousin) have been talking about it all day that our lives over the last few weeks have been a beautiful mess but we wouldn’t change it for the world! Pakistan zindabad!”
Then came along Qasim Mushtaq who said “And the other thing i want to say here, it was really nice to interact some of you guys as I was new to Stani Army. So thanks to Imy bhai and all others who have been supportive through out.” By this time someone had cut the onions.
But they didn’t stop, Debbie was next “I’ve had an amazing month, I can’t thank you all enough for making me feel a part of something so special. Thank you Imy for including me and thank you everyone for accepting me with so much warmth”.
Khateeb joined the conversation with ” All of you play a massive part to Pakistan’s support in the stands. Without Qamir there’s no hulk in the stands (how am I meant to find you if you’re not there with them hands?), without Kal there’s no platinum service at grounds, without Imy there’s no chants in the ground, without Umar, there’s no smoke grenades or the legendary flag, without Debs there’s no amazing photos and etc the list goes on 💚”
Kaleem was next “I have been a late comer in thanks to Imy and Khateeb but it feels like I have known you all for years and we are Just one big family supporting our team”
For around 10 minutes I thought that was the end but how can Habshi not join the party. “Guys…
We just need to win Bangladesh game. After that, Reach semis or not…doesn’t matter. Our boys will still hold their heads high.
PS: This world cup has given me more friends and beautiful memories to cherish. I can never forget that.”
And finally we had Pakxican “My brothers!!!! Just watching a movie had a quick read man you boys making me emotional! So much love 💚🇵🇰💪🏽 stani army boys thanks for including me and showing so much love. @Qamir the dhol well it got us through the games making the stands go wild. Me and you have to keep doing this in sha Allah. @Imy my brother I’ll never forget that text you sent me for the CT final Haha. @Riz Habibi you smashed it getting the tickets. @Kaleem @Qamir the munchies yesterday too.
Let’s wake up lords! @Qamir another pakxican wave!
All you I mean every single one of you. Amazing.”
How could you not love this group. What legends. Lucky the rest stayed quiet!
I had tickets for the Bangladesh game but no staff cover so decided I couldn’t go. My brother sorted out my staff cover the night before. Special thanks to Imran Khan (not that one) for sorting my ticket out as I had given mine to Habshi’s daughter. We went, no expectation, full of energy and it worked. We rocked Lord’s again and witnessed another win. 4 on the bounce. The 12th man was living. We had done our jobs. We were proud of the team too. I had taken my 3 kids to a game, Raja had taken his daughters to 2 games, Jahangir his son, Hulkistan his son to Leeds and now Habshi too. We hadn’t just conquered the World Cup ourselves but seen the next generation too.
Got a message from Raja thanking me for everything but it was me supposed to be thanking them all. From the founder of Stani Army, Tabrez, to trusting me with running Stani Army, to each and everyone of these great people and every other Pakistani who is a part of Stani Army by just supporting our team with their heart. We don’t have memberships for this particular reason. No one is limited to us. If you love the green shirt , you are one of us.
We went for dinner at the end of the game. After the food we were walking for a desert. Upon getting asked how long more Shahzad Fayyaz kept saying 5 minutes more. Once we got that we carried onto the station, which again was 5 minutes more according to Shahzad. We ended up in Marble Arch walking.
What would I give for 5 minutes more in the stands as #Pakistans12thMan.
Imran Asghar is the head of media and communications at @staniarmy and tweets on @Pakcricket_