Sport shouldn’t kill. But yesterday, it did. The match looked tense, but to be honest, it was a good game of football. Al-Ahly went in leading at half-time, but the Port Said club, Al-Masry, managed to get three goals in the second half to ensure an emphatic and atmospheric finish.
I had a dark thought in bed last night, as I was checking what time this game was. I had a feeling it just wouldn’t make it through, and something in me was surprised that fans would be allowed to attend. I’m so used to the Egyptian League being played behind closed doors since the revolution; unsuccessfully, may I add. The last Al-Masry game, away to Ismaily, was supposed to have no fans in it due to crowd trouble in the matches preceding it. The Ismaily fans invaded the stands, and knew that the referee was given instructions to cancel the game if they stayed in the stands for a quarter of an hour. They stayed for 14 minutes.
Reporters alerted that Ahly fans had put a banner up before the final whistle: there are no “men” in Port Said, it suggested. As soon as the whistle was blown, the Ahly players began galloping into the changing room, and it didn’t take long to notice they were being chased by a mob of angry fans. Aside from the odd player being attacked, it was clear they were running towards the Ahly fans. Next, the Ahly players were calling TV shows screaming and crying for help from the army, the interior ministry, anyone. They shouted that fans were dying in front of them and dying outside. The presenter assured them that this was not the case. But the Ahly fans were being brought into the team’s dressing room to be treated by the team doctor, and indeed, the players were witnessing deaths. The same presenter, less than an hour later, was crying and screaming at the camera. All presenters and analysts (the Egyptian League is broadcast live by a dozen channels), had their faces on tables, or in their hands, or were simply crying aloud. That alone was surreal.
I quickly asked a friend of mine, one of the Ahly players, if he was ok, to which he replied quite simply: “We are dying”. When it was officially announced that four people had died, I too couldn’t stop my tears. Injuries can be accepted in football – just about – but why deaths? There is simply no excuse or explanation. When the toll reached 15, I was in absolute breakdown. I would never have imagined it to elevate as it has. Let’s forget the pictures of fans with flares; the picture above is the real tragedy: a young man who ‘went to the game’ returns to his mother as a corpse.
But things aren’t as simple as they seem. Ahly fans are not as violent as some news networks are now making them out to be. It seems odd that such a banner emerged from their stands. Even more mind boggling, Al-Masry won this game, inflicting the first loss of the season on champions Al-Ahly. Why would they possibly riot after such a win?
The seemingly clichéd link to the revolution is no cliché. Let’s not forget that the hard-core fans, the ‘Ultras’ of the biggest two teams, Ahly and Zamalek, played a pivotal and understated role in the revolution. One of the organisers of the initial 25th January 2011 protests has stated that when the organisers felt their annual protest could be more than just a protest, they sought the help of the Ultras, who, between them, quickly mobilised 30,000 fans to join the protests against Mubarak, which at that stage, only included a few thousand people. No other group could mobilise this number so quickly, and as football fans, they were used to putting themselves on the line against the police. Today was payback time. Those who died today are martyrs of the revolution, murdered in revenge for what the ‘Ultras’ did for Egypt and the Middle-East one year ago.
The reasserted rhetoric which has re-emerged today says it all. “Mubarak’s time was safer”, “see what happens when police can’t hit people”, and of course “are these the youth of the revolution?”
We need to remember that Egyptian Muslims and Christians were holding hands and protecting one another during the revolution last year, but the old regime, refusing to give up, has attempted to spark sectarian violence time after time. What these so-called football fans did today was much the same; it was most certainly planned and premeditated. There was little or no attempt to stop the rioters. To put it simply, it was an attempt to spark civil war.
And what about the Egyptian FA, in all its [corruptive] might? Surely, it knows full well that football shouldn’t have been played since the revolution due to lack of security, and indeed financial issues I discussed in a previous article! But that would mean losing too much financially for them. So, they thought, a few lost lives won’t matter. To be fair, they probably weren’t expecting this many today. One more thing, what guts they have not to resign.
This article reads like a rant, and it is. Another friend I spoke to, who also played in this match, cursed football and its ‘parentage’ in the clearest possible terms. I couldn’t agree more. Right now, I don’t like football’s mother either.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
Latest posts by CME (see all)
- “Terrorist, plain and simple”? The misleading strategy behind the “terrorist” tag. – October 6, 2015
- Letter Smuggled out of Egyptian Prisons: Esraa El Taweel Speak – July 14, 2015
- We must not forget Abu-Salim – July 7, 2015