Salman Butt’s HAFIZ had an icy stare. With his gaze, he could leave one frozen. Yet those steady grey eyes had in them a feeling of longing, an unfulfilled vision, a lingering pain. Salman was excited about football and wanted to see Pakistan achieve new heights in the sport. He wouldn’t be able to see that if, ever, Pakistan’s football hit the heights Salman tried to take it to.
After suffering a stroke the previous night, Salman died on Thursday night at the age of 65 while being treated at a private hospital in Lahore and was laid to rest on Friday. Pakistan football has lost one of the most prominent personalities with its death, even though it has spent most of the last three decades outside rather than within the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
In reality, his tenure as PFF secretary general from 1991 to 1994 was one of the most glorious eras of football in Pakistan. Yet his fiery personality meant that after he was expelled and eventually barred for forming a rival party, he did not get back into the PFF. He felt misled by those that he had helped, too.
In 2003, Salman was behind the rise of Faisal Saleh Hayat to the PFF presidency as he tried to unseat Mian Azhar as the football leader of the country. The election of Hayat helped Salman avenge Azhar by slapping a 10-year ban on him. Even Hayat, however, did not let Salman back into the PFF.
From then on, Salman’s struggle was to revoke the ban on him. He’d hoped that Hayat was the one to do that. Yet, the PFF leader raised the fact that the former was outlawed by FIFA in 2015, when Salman sought to oust Hayat. Then Dawn was told by the global football body that it was’ ignorant’ of the ban.
Yet no clarification remained. He was reminded that he was “persona non grata” every time Salman attempted to find his way back into football. However, there is no question that Pakistan’s football was never the way it was when Salman joined the PFF.
Then, for three years, the National Football Championship enjoyed live TV coverage and a sponsorship worth Rs35 million. Those who played during this era insist they’ve never seen better days before.
The nearest thing to the heart of Salman was Wohaib FC, a football club named in remembrance of his slain brother. The unrelenting push of Salman saw the team becoming the country’s first to compete in the 1992/93 Asian Clubs Championship.
My goal over the years has been to develop the country’s football so that we can attain international glory,’ Salman told Dawn last year. “It hurts to see football in Pakistan in the mess that it is.”
When FIFA named a Normalisation Committee to manage the football affairs in the country and hold new elections, Salman saw Hayat replaced as PFF president. It gave Salman a window of opportunity to do what he needed to do if he could get back into the PFF somehow. But with him, time and declining health caught up.