The lights beamed on inside the Afghan Football Federation stadium and 5000 people, drawn to a spectacle unheard of for nearly four decades, came out to see a match.

Security in Afghanistan's capital is tenuous, a fact underscored in the past week by several attempted suicide bomb attacks around the city. Elsewhere in the country, dozens of Afghan police and soldiers were killed by Taleban fighters in one of the year's deadliest spates of violence.

But, last Thursday night, another battle was taking place between the De Maiwand Atalan football club from Kandahar province and the defending champions De Spin Ghar Bazan team from Nangahar province for a shot at this year's title in the Afghan Premier League.

This was the first evening spectator event held in the country since the 1979 Soviet Union invasion.


Mostly beside the point was that the "Maiwand Champions" cruised to a 2-0 victory over Nangahar's "Eagles of the White Mountain" in the match, which was also broadcast across the country on television and radio.

Instead, the men and women who crowded into the outdoor football stadium - tooting horns and cheering loudly at each shot on goal - were out to win back something far more valuable: a sense of public joy that has long eluded the nation battered decades by tyranny and war.

"It's a very different feeling," said Sayed Omar Anmadi, 23, who brought his brother Alyus, 12, to watch their favourite team from Kandahar's Maiwand district play, while dance music thumped over loudspeakers beneath the bright stadium lights.

"We don't usually go out at night because of the security situation," Anmadi said. "This offers a fresh kind of hope."

The event, several years in the making, is part of a larger campaign to reintroduce a sense of normalcy into Afghan culture led by the Dubai-based Moby Media Group, which, with the Roshan telecommunications company, created the Afghan Premier League in 2012.

With some US State Department backing, the effort also includes a popular Afghan Sesame Street children's programme on Moby's Tolo TV channel and a music production house for budding artists in Kabul.

But a fun night in a Kabul football stadium carries extra symbolism for millions of Afghans.

Many remember the gruesome public executions held inside Kabul's older Ghazi Stadium - about 800m away from the Afghan Federation Football stadium - during the Taleban regime in the late 1990s.


Abdul Hameed Mubarez, a local historian, said those days evoked the fear of Taleban reprisals that still permeates Afghan society, keeping many home at night and away from large crowds vulnerable to suicide bomb attacks.

Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, night events in Kabul were routine, said Mubarez, who was Deputy Minister of Culture under former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

Crowds gathered inside Ghazi Stadium to watch the Afghan national team compete against Iran or Pakistan. During Eid or Independence Day festivals held in August, live music filled the air as families travelling to Kabul from nearby provinces celebrated with elaborate picnics, often sleeping in outdoor camps.

Now, after 16 years of the Taleban insurgency and decades of conflict before, many Afghans are weary of their limited lives and yearn for that same sense of freedom, Mubarez, 83, said.

"People have decided that they will go on with their lives," he said. "They will enjoy it as long as they're alive, because nowadays whenever we go out from our homes, we are not sure if we'll come back alive or not."

As the sun fell over the mostly commercial section of Kabul where the Afghan Football Federation stadium is located, the stadium lights - brought in from China and installed this month - illuminated the night.

Fans made their way past security checkpoints, with Afghan national police inspecting bags and frisking everyone who walked through.

In September, three people were killed in a suicide bomb attack outside an afternoon cricket tournament held nearby, so the police were on high alert.

Mohammad Anit Watandost, an off-duty Kabul police office officer, passed through security with his son Irfan, 5. Watandost, 32, wore his police officer's uniform. His son wore a mock camouflage military uniform and sported a plastic toy AK-47 rifle.

Watandost said he came dressed in uniform to show pride in his role in fighting a sense of insecurity in his native city.

"I've gone through so many factional battles," said Watandost, citing the Afghan mujahideen uprising against the Soviets during the 1980s, followed by civil war, the Taleban regime and today's ongoing insurgency. "We all want peace and the same kind of situation that we are in here," Watandost said, gesturing to the crowded stadium of cheering fans. "I played football in my youth and I want my children to play football and watch football. This is what I want."

The following day, another semifinal night match took place without incident before an even larger crowd of 8000 fans, setting up a final this Saturday between the Maiwand team and the victorious "Falcons of Asmayee" from Kabul.

While the crowd's cheers echoed into the night, a suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque 15km away, killing 39 people.