Friday, July 18, 2008

Egyptian Derby: Al Ahly v. Zamalek

African football often gets pushed aside in the international footballing press.

It's either too foreign to most journalists or not interesting enough for their tastes.

That's one reason today's piece about the Al Ahly-Zamalek derby in the Guardian was such a pleasure to see.

The article doesn't paint the most flattering image of Egyptian football, the reigning kings of Africa. It describes senseless violence, nationalism and a deep hatred between the clubs.

But it also exposes what football means to many people: an escape from the hum-drum of every day life.

As many of you know, Al Ahly is the most successful club in African football. They've won the last four league titles (33 in all), two of the last three African Champions Leagues and enjoyed a record-breaking 55 match unbeaten run.

Zamalek are pretty successful themselves, having also won 5 African Championships (tied with Al Ahly for most on the continent).

Reporter James Montague braved the insanity to cover the most recent contest between the two squads, which is set to be contested again this weekend in the African Champions League group stages this weekend.

Not that he wasn't dissuaded from going. Upon arrival to the Cairo airport, a cherry taxi driver asked where he was going. When told he was off to the derby, the driver said "Do not go. You will be killed."

Heady stuff indeed. To read the article, click here. Here's a free sample.

When I arrived at the Cairo International Stadium, it was clear the authorities weren't taking any risks. The concourse leading to the stadium was swamped with black-clad riot police and plain-clothes officers, randomly hauling out supporters and taking them away to be searched. It felt more like temporary, localised martial law than a football match. Inside, Ahly's Ultra group was already in fine voice, hours before the kick off.

"Ahly was the first ever [football club] to be 100% Egyptian so it is very nationalistic but Zamalek has changed their name so many times we sing: 'You used to be half British, you guys are the rejects'. In Arabic it's the plural of 'Small dirty houses,'" explained Asad, the organisation's leader. "The two biggest political parties in Egypt are Ahly and Zamalek. It's bigger than politics. It's more about escapism. The average Ahly fan is a guy who lives in a one bedroom flat with his wife, mother-in-law and five kids. And he is getting paid minimum wage and his life sucks. The only good thing about his life is that for two hours on a Friday he goes to the stadium and watches Ahly. That's why it is such an obligation to win every game. It makes people's lives happy. We are probably the only club in the world where we [the fans] expect to win every single game."


Anonymous said...

"Upon arrival to the Cairo airport"?.... Is this English?... It is: Upon arrival at the Cairo airport. .... And What in God's name is a "Cherry taxi driver?"

Where did you learn English? In China?

Anonymous said...

I should take tips from someone that capitalizes words in the middle of sentences?

Thanks for the concern! :)

Sam said...

Yeah,put a sock in it, witch!

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