EGYPTIAN PREMIER LEAGUE
ARAB CONTRACTORS STADIUM (OSMAN AHMED OSMAN STADIUM) CAIRO
31st DECEMBER 2011
Just one night before there had been much bigger football fish to fry. Cairo giants Zamalek SC had lined up against Al-Masry of Port Said in a Friday night Premier League clash but the crazy taxi journey to the Cairo International Stadium proved to be frustrating, expensive and pointless. Unknown to myself the Egyptian FA had ruled that the fixture should be played behind closed doors. Due to increasing levels of hooliganism within the Egyptian game and a fear that the game could see trouble between fans a late decision was made to keep doors closed.
Despite the world being a global place and the internet being everywhere in Egypt the rules of society can be different. Finding out information about football fixtures can be tricky especially so given most up to the minute news appears in Arabic.
To be fair just about anywhere in Cairo is tricky; in fact, the whole city is just one big mess of chaos. The people are very hospitable and friendly despite the chaos they deal with each day but to the outsider, the city appears unclean, polluted, disorganised and dirty rather than vibrant.
Cairo’s environmental problems include water scarcity, air pollution, damage to historic monuments and animal welfare issues. It’s not unusual to see trucks flying through city streets with uncontrolled animals in the back or stray dogs. According to most recent surveys, the air pollution in Cairo is a matter of serious concern. In downtown Cairo, it is more than 10 to 100 times normal acceptable world standards.
Cairo has a very poor rating simply because of the lack of rain and its layout of tall buildings and narrow streets. These along with wide streets create a bowl effect which creates bad ventilation and the trapping of pollutants by way of particulate matter.
The most notable sources of this dust and small particles is transportation, heavy industry and endless open-air waste burning. This is further compounded by desert winds blown into the central parts of the city from arid areas around Egypt.
Initial impressions of Cairo can be overwhelming and be a mega city the intense traffic makes crossing the safest of roads extremely dangerous. Taxi drivers continuously sound horns in the hope of catching customers and the buses are little more than overcrowded cattle trucks.
Travel laws and normal codes of western behaviour it would appear are not applicable in Egypt.
Cairo, Egypt’s capital, is the largest city in the Arab world with a population that exceeds 16 million inhabitants. Make a comparison with the equally huge New York City which has a population of 8.4 million inhabitants and it is not too difficult to guess just how chaotic life is in Cairo.
Back in the 1930’s, this was one of the grandest cities in the world but crime, pollution, sewage, poverty and the absence of law have since taken over. Some of the most stunning tourist spots in the world stand out in Giza but even the pyramids are in chaos; the country unable to utilise its tourist attractions in any sort of purposeful or organised way.
The situation in Cairo is not helped by the fact that just 11 months earlier the city was in the midst of a revolution. This consisted of demonstrations, marches, the mass occupations of important plazas, riots and non-violent civil resistance prompted by social media tool mobilisation. The revolution included Islamic, liberal, anti-capitalist, nationalist and feminist elements all of which culminated in violent clashes between the security forces of Mubarak and protesters.
Latest estimations were that 846 people were killed and political instability reigns.
The tensions and revolutionary mindset in the country have spilled into football stadiums with games involving the larger clubs witnessing serious violence. Zamalek SC has some of the most rebellious fan groups in the country with its main ultra fan organisations UWK (Ultras White Knights) said to have a loose membership of up to 10,000.
Football stadiums since the revolution have suddenly become a theatre for political protest against the regime. Fans were regularly entering stadiums with explosive pyro devices, knives and broken glass. Claims were made in the media of supporters of both Cairo rivals ‘Ultras Ahlawy’ who support Al-Ahly, and the ‘White Nights’ who support Zamalek uniting from a political context.
With the country in the middle of revolution the magnetism of the Ultras groups, who are mainly young men, became a theatre for anger, political energy and passion.
Despite this, a congregation of fans was allowed at a match of the Arab Contractors as Al Mokawloon are better known. The Cairo club is not one with any sort of ultras following and not seen as a threat to security. Founded in 1973 by the famous and influential Egyptian Engineer Osman Ahmed Osman the club is owned by the construction company Arab Contractors.
The journey out to the Arab Contractors multi-use stadium was eventful as any journey by car can be in Cairo. Traffic jams are a seemingly all day occurrence as taxis, buses, motorbikes and cars jostle for space. Each one of these vehicles pumps out endless streams of pollution making visibility incredibly hard.
Eventually, the outer shape of the home Arab Contractors stadium appears, surrounded it would seem by hundreds of young police complete with batons and shields. As the kick-off approaches, they are put through a military training regime and marched into the stadium in a parade like a form.
The stadium is shared with a lower league side FC Masr but its Arab Contractors who tend to have the bulk of the supporters within the stadium come match-day. On one side of the ground, a large congregation of yellow-clad fans bounce around during the whole 90 minutes and bang drums.
On the field, El Gounah is unable to compete with the home side technically.
The star of the show, without any shadow of a doubt, is the tricky left footed Mohamed Salah. He takes it in turns to showcase a range of skills scoring the third goal of the four scored for the home team. Also impressive for the home team was El Neny a tall technician with strength and composure.
For those used to the organisation of European football, this was absolutely a huge culture shock. Entrance cost little more than £3 and inside watching were a mixture of hard-core fans, older gentlemen playing chess and disinterested children.
Not anywhere near to the chaos of a Zamalek fixture this was more of a Saturday afternoon stroll for the home team.
And the biggest challenge still awaited – getting back to my hotel.
Arab Contractors: Al Akabawy, Al Sayed, Hassan, Ali Bassem, Ali Kamal, Al Hamalawi, Salah (Goal 30 mins), Elneny, Afifi (Goal 19 mins), Kabiru (Goal 44 mins) Guelbi (Goal 99 mins) Coach: Radwan
El Gounah: Abdel Monsef, Adel, Gomaa, Awoa, Al Saied, Al Adham, Ocran, El Sayed, Moniem, Buba (Farag Goal 95 mins), Al Sayed Coach: Anwar Salama
This match report first appeared in voicesinfootball.com during January 2012.