The Global Game: Watching The Premier League In Pakistan

Earlier this week I came across the ‘Global Game‘ initiative launched by Nick Harris (Mail on Sunday, Sporting Intelligence). It’s a great idea, hopefully it catches on and more and more people from different parts of the world who follow football (and especially the English Premier League) can contribute to it.

In the meantime, here’s my submission – and you can make your own submission by following the instructions here.

How It’s Like To Watch The English Premier League In Pakistan

Ahmed Bilal.


CEO, Football Media and Editor, Soccerlens.

Manchester United since 1994. It was a computer game, based on Man Utd. A strange but enduring love.

Last Game watched:
Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal.

29 Oct 2011.

Saturday evening local time (early afternoon UK).

At a friend’s house, in Lahore. You do get people watching together in public places but given that there are no bars, it’s more of a personal / social experience than a public one.

Who else was watching:
Myself and a couple of other friends. Incidentally all Manchester United fans.

TV Channel carrying the game:
ESPN Star Sports (Which is a JV between ESPN and News Corp (STAR)).

How much does it cost:
I pay PKR 350 / month to my local cable company that provides us with 80+ channels, including a handful of sports channels. That’s $4 / month or £2.53 / month. You don’t get HD, but it’s affordable for most people here (i.e. anyone who can at least afford a TV).

What’s the local tipple and how much does it cost:
Fun question. In theory, alcohol is a banned substance, on religious grounds and also by law. Practically, if you are inclined, and you have the money (it’s usually 50% to 100% more expensive than what it would cost you in US or UK) and have the right phone numbers, you can get a limited variety of the average stuff. Since it’s an ‘underground’ market demand drives supply and that in turn means a limited selection to choose from.

Having said that, it’s a lot more common than people think – and if you move in higher circles of society, it’s a must.

Plus we have our own brewery (Murree Brewery) – again something people wouldn’t expect from a country that bans the consumption of alcohol.

One person’s preferences don’t always reflect local culture but usually drinking for me is more of a social experience, so when I’m watching the game at home it’s unlikely to be with a beer or a glass of wine. With friends though, it’s a whole different story.

What’s the popularity of the English Premier League in the country where you live:
Absolutely massive. Whereas a decade or two ago international teams still held greater sway (I remember the 98 and 02 World Cups being more popular than club football (Premier League / Champions League), you’re now seeing a much greater, more widespread interest in the Premier League. Partially it’s because the Premier League is always on TV, which is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There isn’t enough Spanish, Italian, German or Dutch football to be seen on TV and that’s where you have to commend the marketing machine of the Premier League in getting to international markets first.

TV, then, has had a major role to play in promoting the Premier League in Pakistan and it would be easy to say it’s the only reason – Pakistan hasn’t been the focus of pre-season tours like Far-East Asia or the US, nor have we hosting international / major club teams like India.

But there are other cultural factors as well – the prevalence of football as a sport among the youth, coinciding neatly with the decline of several other major sports in Pakistan (including cricket), the strong social ties Pakistan enjoys with the UK in terms of population movement as well as, at the end of the day, the Internet.

Before the Premier League football used to be a sport people played. Even growing up, football was more of an athletic / social pursuit first, a game to watch on TV second. The liberalisation of TV channels here around the start of the decade coupled with the sheer explosion of the Premier League and it’s success in attracting football fans to a whole new world means that football is easily the second most popular sport in the country (and cricket is rapidly losing it’s charm). The Premier League has a big role to play in that popularity.

Any other observations:
UK fans (and many expats) are traditionally supporters of a team because they grew up watching up, or their family supports them, or even because they are the first team they saw in action. But there is a growing section of the global fanbase that has only ever watched football on TV, so their loyalties are formed by initial exposure to the sport. You can almost tell a person’s age and time of exposure to football by the team they support. At the start of the previous decade many people started supporting Arsenal (the big team of that time). There was a massive increase in the number of Chelsea fans in the Mourinho years. Barcelona has similarly enjoyed an upswing in support, partly because of their phenomenal success but also because of the likes of Ronaldinho and Messi being idolised by young footballers.

Are they glory hunters? Maybe at the start, but a lot of informal research suggests that after a certain period of time supporting a team, a fan will inevitably follow their team through thick and thin and behave like a ‘proper’ fan. Here’s a good article on glory fans that describes this better than me.

Another major factor is how players bring new fans to teams, and it’s something we’ve seen here in Pakistan with how Ronaldinho and Messi brought new fans to Barcelona despite Spanish football coverage lagging far behind the Premier League. But is it the chief cause? No – success, exposure and player appeal, all have a role to play.

It’s a shame that no international football club or team is likely to visit Pakistan in the near future because of the local instability, although like all things on the news there is a lot more propaganda and fear-mongering than reality. I think you would find that, just like everywhere else in the world, Pakistani football fans just want to watch good football, and when it comes to footballing culture, they enjoy being a part of something bigger and more powerful than themselves. It certainly lends to easy friendships (are you a United fan? you must be alright then), arguments (all Arsenal fans are pompous and arrogant) and overall, a good social experience.

Unless you get beaten 6-1 by Man City, that is. That just numbs you to the core.

Check out if your country has been covered yet and if not, make sure you send in your own experiences here.

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