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Story of the manufacturer of the official World Cup ball


It was when he felt the roar of the crowd at the 2006 World Cup in Germany that Pakistani factory owner Khawaja Akhtar first dreamt up a goal of his own: to manufacture the ball for the biggest football tournament on the planet.

"The people were chanting all around me. I just thought, 'This is the real thing'," Akhtar told Reuters. "I was part of the crowd. I never had that kind of feeling before."
His factory in eastern Pakistan had made balls for the German Bundesliga, French league and Champions League, but he had never snagged a World Cup contract.
Last year he finally got his chance - but only 33 days to make it happen.
When Akhtar heard last autumn that Adidas' Chinese supplier for the World Cup couldn't keep up with demand, he immediately invited executives to his plant in Sialkot, a wealthy Pakistani manufacturing town with a long history of leatherwork.
Their first visit was not a success.
"They said 'You have Stone Age equipment," said his oldest son, Hassan Masood Khawaja, laughing. "After they left, my father called a meeting and said: 'This is our only chance. If we show them we can't do it, we'll never get another chance again.'"
It usually takes six months to set up a production line, but the factory only had a month - Adidas, the German sports equipment maker, was in a hurry. So Khawaja designed, made and moved the equipment into place within 33 days. Everything had to be done from scratch.
"It was hard, maybe the hardest thing I've ever done," he said over the noise of the hot, hissing machines.
But it was a success, and the firm's previous investment in thermal bonding technology paid off. Only thermally bonded balls - made using a glue that reacts with heat - are round enough for the World Cup's strict standards.
A leading force in world cricket, Pakistan is a mere also-ran in football, where it ranks just 159th in the world. But Akhtar's factory, where men and women in bright, flowing robes move plastic ball panels from machine to precision machine, is part of a long tradition of Sialkot football makers.
Local legend tells of a poor cobbler who made his fortune by repairing the punctured footballs of colonial-era British soldiers, then studying how to make them himself.
He was so successful that soldiers all over the region started buying from him. Business blossomed - but so did child labour.
A series of scandals, and changing technology, forced many factories to close. Others had to clean up their acts.
These days foreign brands frequently inspect Sialkot factories that make their footballs. Large signs on Akhtar's factory walls sternly proclaim that child labour is forbidden and unions are allowed.
Workers that Reuters spoke to privately confirmed that conditions were good - the salary was mostly minimum wage, around $100 (59.4 pounds) a month, but social security, life insurance and transport were extra benefits. A small government hospital sits on the premises.
In the past 40 years, Akhtar's own family business, called Forward, has grown from 50 men to 1,400 employees. Unusually for Pakistan, nearly a quarter of them are women.
Some wear the niqab, a long black covering that leaves only a pair of brown eyes exposed. Others flaunt bright sandals with imitation jewels and wear robes the colour of tropical birds.
Almost all say they are the first woman in their family to work.
Shakila Ashrafi, a 38-year-old mother whose long beige coat reached down to her ankles, said one of her first purchases was a television.
When the World Cup kicks off in Brazil on June 12, they plan to invite their neighbours - all avid cricket supporters - to come and watch the strange foreign game being played half a world away.
"We will bring everyone together to see the match," she said, her busy hands pausing for a moment. "I want them to see what we make and where the balls go."
via Reuters
Edited by aimaad22

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After taking in some random international football at the weekend I'm really looking forward to this.


Though I'm not sure if the stadiums etc are going to be ready. I don't know why they don't give it to a Country who actually want it - that is actually capable of hosting it. Like err....England.


I wouldn't be surprised if the Quatar WC is pulled mind. Lots of brown envelopes and dodgy deposits have been made & a lot are being found out.

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Technically a World Cup story but mostly not. :D




Mirandinha says England players will find it hard to breathe in Manaus


First Brazil player to appear in English football fondly recalls his time at Newcastle United, even playing in snow for the first time, and gives a warning to the England team at the World Cup



There is a small section in the museum at Fortaleza’s Estádio de Futebol Castelão where pictures of Tyneside enjoy surprising prominence. Mirandinha, the first Brazilian to play in English football after moving to Newcastle United for more than £500,000 in 1987, is an icon in the city that will host six World Cup matches this summer, but it is the 54-year-old’s time in the north-east that evokes some of his fondest memories.


“I still think about Newcastle,” reflects Mirandinha, who speaks about England with wistful nostalgia. “I love Newcastle and was so happy there. English football for me was very, very important because I was the first Brazilian to play there. The first three months were horrible because I had never been in this situation before, I’d never played in snow. It was difficult but after a while I had a chance to play well.”


Mirandinha made his debut for Newcastle in a 1-1 draw at Norwich City, a game that Paul Gascoigne started in midfield. His arrival was much trumpeted and, cleared to play only two hours before kick-off, he gave a rare glimpse of a player from an exotic country whose stars had previously only been viewed on TV screens.


The Guardian match report of the game, published on 2 September 1987, captured the expectation among the crowd at Carrow Road. Stephen Bierley wrote: “After what seemed an interminable wait, the man finally arrived. Excitement was intense, and speculation. Would he score? Would he get sent off? – the night was clear, and a little sultry – Rio in winter. Norwich – were in no mood to let the evening become a Brazilian carnival, although perhaps their yellow shirts made Mirandinha feel just a little bit at home. Fortunately they did not confuse him. ‘Mirandinha, Mirandinha’ chanted the Geordie choir jubilantly.”


Newcastle’s boy from Brazil could not mark his debut with a goal during a game in which he was often foiled by Steve Bruce in the heart of Norwich’s defence, but he was given a raucous reception by the travelling fans. Willie McFaul, Newcastle’s manager at the time, said: “He’s come here, he’s been thrown in at the last moment and he excites me.”


There is another moment from that day that sticks out in Mirandinha’s mind. “I remember my first game when we played against Norwich City,” he says. “Inside the bus they brought us fish and chips and chicken and chips for us to eat after the game. The bus started to leave and Gazza told me to go over to Mr Willy and tell him: ‘Mr Willy I am fucking starving.’ I didn’t know what it meant so I went to Mr Willy and said ‘boss I am fucking starving I need to eat some food’. All the boys started to laugh with me. That was the first funny story but there were so many.”


Mirandinha stayed with Newcastle for two seasons before moving back to Palmeiras in Brazil, never becoming a prolific player for the club but making a significant impression nonetheless.


He was also a local celebrity in Newcastle during the late 1980s. The black-and-white photos in Fortaleza’s stadium appear as if from a bygone era. Mirandinha and Gascoigne are shown next to a white van surrounded by pupils from Castle Dene school, but the one that catches the eye is of the Brazilian riding a sleigh down Northumberland Street to switch on the Christmas lights. “All the Brazilian players, when we started to play at a high level, were thinking about playing in Europe,” he says. “It was normal and for me it was fantastic. I played for big clubs in Brazil but when I had the chance to go to Europe it was fantastic.


“I still have contact with Lee Clark and Paul Gascoigne. I speak with Paul, not regularly because he has a few problems sometimes. But he was fantastic and gave me a lot of support when I was there. I’m so glad that I was there with these people, it was very important for my career to play in England.


“Gazza, he’s a crazy boy. Then he was only 19-years-old so you can imagine how Gazza was. He was a fantastic guy for me, we were good together and I was happy there with him and other players like Darren Jackson from Scotland. I was very settled there and happy in Newcastle.”


Mirandinha now manages the impressive Castelão stadium, which will host Brazil versus Mexico among other games at the World Cup. He fears for the European players who have to play in the equatorial climate of Manaus – “when I went there it was difficult to breathe” – but is optimistic of the Seleção’s chances in the tournament.


“We have a good chance to be in the final because we are here, with our people, the Brazilian people will be together with the national team,” says Mirandinha. “We have now a very good coach, [Luiz Felipe] Scolari is the best coach for Brazil in this moment and we have top, top players in Europe. They will be important because a lot of players in the national team play in Europe and they know how everyone plays, they have a lot of information for Scolari. Brazil have a great chance to be in the final.”


Mirandinha’s time in Newcastle ended when Jim Smith took over from McFaul and became frustrated with “Wor Mira”, who struggled with an achilles injury. However, England’s first Brazilian import paved the way for many to follow.





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:lol: I see the vice president of FIFA has said he'd have no problem with a re-vote for the 2022 world cup, if these allegations are found to be true.

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