I grew up in Saudi Arabia where Saudis outnumber the expats many times unlike other middle eastern countries where you can go on living for months without running into a local. Hence we had picked up large number of Arabic street words and though could not carry a complete conversation in Arabic yet could find our way around easily in Arabic.
In our neighbourhood block, there were a few Pakistani families with kids our age but it was mainly a local majority area. In the evening we played football on the roads. When the traffic increased in a few years, we moved on to empty lots of land and when population increased further and empty lots were converted into buildings we moved to football grounds located in parks which were at least 15 minutes walk from our neighbourhood.
Before moving to parks, we used to play amongst ourselves (i.e. Pakistanis). In parks and grounds, occasionally there were other contenders for the field as well mainly the local saudi kids. This is where things got exciting. We were not gifted football players and our game had not improved a lot since childhood days as we did not take it too seriously challenged always playing amongst ourselves 4 or 5 a side and during exam times even 2 a side.
When we played with the locals, it would be like 8 or 9 a side and all of us Pakistanis in one team. During the early games we lost badly with even their weakest players going home with a goal or two under on the score card.
Over time our game improved and we started giving them tough competition. For the locals, whose national game was Football, losing to measly Pakistanis would tantamount to loss of face. As such, they would resort to hard tackles to dispossess us of the ball or play unfairly to keep us from winning. But you can’t lose forever and we would win despite their questionable tactics.
Occasionally the game would end into fights as they could not bear losing to us. Being expats, we were afraid of hitting them hard so that it might not bring trouble (local police to our homes). However, the uncouth locals had no such inhibitions stones, pepsi cans even discarded beverage bottles on the outskirts of the ground were fair game for them.
Football turned out to be our training ground for street fighting. The best strategy was that when the fight broke out hit as many punches and kicks as quickly as possible and run!. The locals could always count on passerbys to join increase their numbers as they would definitely be a local but we had only ourselves to fall back on. So it was always a punch here, jab there, kick in the groin and run for your lives.
The best part was that as we were kids, we could not hold a grudge for long. Boys being boys can’t remain play indoors forever. So after a gap of couple of days allowing the tempers to cool down we would go back to the same ground and play football again. You have to give it to the locals (even if a little) that they would have forgiven our hit and run incident of last week.
Though our football skills had improved slowly playing with locals, significant improvement came from street fighting wherein we learnt such skills as sprint bursts, dogding (necessary to dodge a stone or bottle hurled at you) and major increase in our stamina as we had to lose them in the streets and not lead them to our homes.
Looking back I would say that football introduced us to street fighting which in turn improved our football.
It also brought me the realization that blood is thicker than water but that is for a separate post.