WHEN Jimmy Khan looks at the waistcoat that hangs in his front room he is immediately taken back to the 80,000 capacity Jinnah Stadium in Pakistan in February 1989, and his only international cap.
Darwen-born Khan was 25 at the time, and after spells as a youth at Blackburn Rovers and Bury, he had spent three seasons playing in the Finnish second division, returning in 1984.
By now he had set his sights on a career in coaching, but an unlikely turn of events led him on to the international stage, and a cap for Pakistan as they battled to make Italia 90, although players were given waistcoats when they represented the national team, rather than the traditional caps.
Khan, whose parents moved from Pakistan to Darwen two years before he was born in September 1963, began his road to international football in 1987.
“I had been to Pakistan a couple of times,” he explained, “and when I went over there on one holiday I played a bit of football.
“I was playing at an Army base and I played in this game against some Army recruits and scored about 10 goals, they weren’t very good. We had another game a few days later and I scored four or five goals in that one.”
Khan thought no more of it and returned to East Lancashire, where he was coaching as he took the first steps to a career as a sports development officer.
In January 1989 his brother Denny, and dad, Joe, returned to Pakistan for his brother’s wedding, with Jimmy unable to get time off to make the trip to Rawalpindi.
But with two Khan’s in town, word began to spread about the footballing exploits of Jimmy two years earlier, and Pakistan’s German coach Burkhard Ziese was on the lookout for new players as the country tried to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.
“They were having international trials and word spread that somebody from England with the name Khan was back,” said Jimmy.
“My brother realised that they were on about me and then my dad called to ask if I wanted to come out for the trials, I was out there like a shot.
“I did well in a trial match and they wanted me to go to the away games against Kuwait and the UAE, but I was full of a cold and I knew I wouldn’t do myself justice.
“I stayed in Islamabad and got myself better and fit.”
Life had become a whirlwind adventure for Khan, who had gone from moving away from a career in football to being called up to play in a World Cup qualifier in the space of week.
On January 20, 1989, the team were beaten 5-0 by Pakistan, and then a week later they went down 2-0 to Kuwait.
When the squad returned to the capital Khan, the only member not born in the country, joined up with them, but having had experience of high-level coaching in England, he was dismayed at what he saw.
“We had a German coach at the time and he was the laziest coach I’ve ever seen,” he said. “All he had us doing was running laps around the running track.
“There was no set play work, no positional work, I was doing some sessions with a ball from stuff I had picked up at Rovers and Bury.
“I was concerned about what was going on and made my feelings known, and then the day before the game they sacked him and put his assistant in charge.”
On February 10, 1989, Khan was named in the starting line-up in front of a crowd of 40,000 to face the United Arab Emirates.
When the first notes of the Pakistan national anthem began to blare out he realised he didn’t know the words, but did his best to mumble along while a national TV audience watched on.
Pakistan found themselves 3-0 down at half time, eventually losing 4-1, finishing bottom of their three-team group without a win.
Khan was asked to stay on in the country and play for the Pakistan International Airlines team in the local competition, remaining in contention for international selection, but he decided it was too hot for him, and his heart was in England.
“It was an amazing experience though,” he said, “I was proud for my parents more than I was for me. All these years on I still remember it vividly.”
Despite Pakistan missing out on Italia 90 Khan almost got the chance to experience the tournament.
He was lined up to be a pundit if England drew the UAE, but they ended up in Germany’s group, losing 2-0 to Columbia, 5-1 to Germany and 4-1 to Yugoslavia.
Khan went on to play for Darwen and Clitheroe in the North West Counties League, a standard he believes wasn’t far away from the international football he had experienced.
“I would say the standard was non-league level,” he added, “probably below the Conference, technically it was very poor.
“We played on grass but most of the training was done on shale.
“The diet was poor as well, it was basically curry and curry. I was eating chips and chicken every day because the curry was too spicy and greasy for me.”
Now 51, Khan is the head of sport and leisure at Preston City Council and plays veterans football for West Didsbury.
He rarely talks about the day he was summoned from coaching in Blackburn to play a World Cup qualifier 4,000 miles away, and you wonder how many 50-year-olds coming up against Khan in the Cheshire Veterans League realise they are taking on a former international footballer.