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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 20:00 GMT
Kabul's footballers gear up
Pamir's players try on their new kit
The kits arrived in time for Pamir's first match of the week
By the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Kabul

Khaled's face lit up as we arrived at Kabul football stadium, bringing with us 15 new footballs and 15 brand new West Bromwich Albion shorts, shirts and socks.

Khaled, a young centre-forward with the local team Pamir, and the other players have been desperately short of kit.

One of the new balls is pumped up
One of the 15 new balls is prepared for the match
"I like the colours," he said. "And we in Afghanistan need more gifts like this."

As the team tried on the bright yellow socks and shirts, the team's trainer, Abibullah Neyazi, looked on with a smile.

"You know, Afghanistan has had war for so long. It's all that people know.

"So for this society and for rebuilding Afghanistan, sport is very important, especially for the young.

"And one of their problems is that we have very little equipment, and finding facilities is difficult," Abibullah said.

Under the Taleban, promoting sport was never a priority.

Football was permitted - but under certain restrictions.

Players certainly were not allowed to wear shorts, and the crowds were forbidden to cheer or shout, even if their team scored a goal.

Worst of all, the Taleban used the stadium for public executions, often held just before a major match.

Now, like the rest of Kabul, the Pamir football team is keen to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

New equipment

There is no shortage of talent or enthusiasm here, despite the lack of new equipment.

The West Brom outfits came courtesy of BBC Radio 5, where West Brom fan and presenter Adrian Chiles heard of Pamir's problems from their reporter Phil Mackie.

They organised the kit and it travelled with me from England on a rickety old Russian Ilyushin 76 cargo plane direct to Kabul.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Adrian Chiles
The new kit was organised by BBC Radio 5 Live's Adrian Chiles
The footballs very nearly did not make it to their destination.

The customs official at Baghram military airport opened up my unwieldy bag and looked longingly at the kit, taking out a ball.

"For me, football?" he asked.

It took a while to persuade him that they had to go to the local team, and not to him.

The football stadium was not hard to find.

It is near the wreckage of what was downtown Kabul, an area shattered by the bitter infighting of the mujahideen in the early 1990s.

Armed guards

Only the shells of ruined buildings have been left standing - a reminder of how much work remains to be done in rebuilding this capital.

As we arrived, an American B-52 streaked through the sky on its way back from bombing Tora Bora, leaving its unmistakeable vapour trail in the sky above the stadium.

A small crowd watches the match
The crowd was small and very reserved
Few stadia have guards armed with Kalashnikovs, but Kabul still does.

The Northern Alliance soldiers are taking no chances with security, even here.

Inside, the team was practising with an old and battered ball.

Abibullah, their trainer, unpacked the new kit and handed it out.

Delighted, the players tried it on in preparation for their first main match of the week.

"West Brom, they are a very good team," said Abibullah. "First division, I think?"

Secret fans

He told me that despite the ban on television, many Afghans watched in secret under the Taleban - and did their best to follow international games.

He said they liked Manchester United and Barcelona, though clearly West Brom may now become rather more famous here than it was before.

As Pamir's players lined up for the game against the Kabul Red Crescent Society, there was not much call for security.

It was Friday and Ramadan, so more people were at the mosque than at the match.

However, a small crowd did at last gather in the crumbling stands, standing silently as the match began.

The only sound was the thump of the ball on the pitch until someone played music over the speakers, and the crowd risked the occasional cheer.

This Hindu Kush league match did not disappoint - Kabul Red Crescent scored, Pamir equalised, and in a nail-biting finish, the Red Crescent scored again.

Coming off the pitch, Khaled was disappointed, but still proud of his team's rather dustier West Brom kit.

Pamir's performance was a credit to their new team colours.

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