BY NASIM CHOWDHURY
DEC 14, 2022 – DAILY SABAH
There are hopes and prayers for a win over France and a place in the final, but one thing is for sure: History has already been made
The area around Golborne Road in the W10 postcode district of London hosts a huge Moroccan community, perhaps among the largest in the West, with the vast majority of them tracing their roots back to Larache, a small town near Tangier. A favorite haunt for the men is the Trellick Lounge at the foot of the world-famous tower block bearing the same name. It is usually a very chilled-out place where people drop in after work or evening prayers at the local mosque and sip their mint tea or cappuccino as they discuss the day’s events while playing dominoes or cards with beIN Sports or Al-Jazeera playing in the background. There was a very different vibe on Saturday night though, with a huge TV screen erected outside so that men, women and children could watch the historic World Cup encounter where Morocco beat Portugal – becoming the first Arab and African country to make it to the semifinals of a World Cup.
Despite the freezing cold temperatures, the streets were absolutely crammed, with an atmosphere so electric that it paralleled that of the Notting Hill Carnival, which is run in the summers through the same streets. Amid the jubilation, people were very forthright and level-headed about what this all means: Ahmad Dahdouh, who has been the imam of the local Almanaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre for more than 20 years and a keen footballer himself, having had trials for Rabat’s elite side, Sports Association of Royal Armed Forces of Morocco (Association sportive des Forces armées royales), put the success down to hard work, dedication and organization.
“My feeling right now is one of amazement,” he told Daily Sabah.
“The manager (Walid Regragui) has managed every game in the most incredible way. Also, some of the players have been excellent – the goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, Nordin Amrabat, Hakim Ziyech, Azzedine Ounahi, Sofiane Boufal…” he said. Some people mistakenly believe that watching or playing football is not permissible in Islam, he said, clarifying that this prohibition only applies to some things that have become associated with the game such as alcohol, gambling and hooliganism. “In principle, it is something permissible,” he said. What was remarkable for him is that Moroccans and non-Moroccans alike were watching the game and cheering on the Atlas Lions.
“When I was young, I’d spend my summer holidays in Morocco and see how big football was over there and always wonder why Morocco did not have a good team like Portugal,” said Moustafa Sakerraka, a telecoms engineer who has a Moroccan father and Portuguese mother, “this is something I just could not understand, so it is amazing to witness what I am seeing now.” Sakerraka was torn between the two countries he supported growing up but decided to support Morocco on this occasion because, “I thought it would be more historic, and would mean more to so many people other than just Moroccans.”
He puts the success down to a few factors: “Qatar has been the perfect setting because, with the entire fan support being for Morocco, every game has felt like a home fixture,” he said, adding that, “every Pakistani and Bengali person I know here has been rooting for Morocco, so it has felt like an extended Moroccan community for me. It’s very heartwarming to see the Muslims and Africans all behind Morocco. It makes it more special. It feels like Morocco is representing more than just the Moroccans. I am very proud to be a Moroccan today. I did not think I’d see them get this far anytime soon!”
‘A football-mad nation’
Hamid Kentafi is an IT consultant and is traveling between London and Doha during the World Cup, having attended some of the matches. “Morocco is a football-mad nation,” he said. “Every time I go to Morocco on holiday, I cannot find my friends because they are all too busy either watching football or playing it.” There has been a transformation in recent years though, says Kentafi, who is known as “the Colonel” to his close friends, adding “It used to be the case that they were fixated on the English Premier League, or Spain’s La Liga, but now people are following the Moroccan national team and the national football league system. People care a lot more about local and African football now. The local football pitches in Morocco are always packed with kids and adults, and football is also a medium through which we express our passions, concerns, and frustrations for issues and causes, such as that of Palestine.”
This would explain why we saw so many Moroccans flying Palestinian flags in Doha and in Golborne Road on Saturday night.
“This is the biggest and happiest event in Moroccan history; something that will endure for generations.” As for his explanation of why the team has done so remarkably well, he says, “The whole world is stunned by our performances and how well we have done. Some have said it is just a coincidence, that we just made it through good luck, and that the players in the other teams are aging. But it cannot be a coincidence when you beat four of the biggest teams in the tournament to get to where we have – big teams that were tipped to win the World Cup. I could never have imagined this. It is a stunning achievement for history and for generations to come. Morocco is just dazzling at the moment!”
As for his experiences at the World Cup itself, he said, “The amazing thing I am seeing at the World Cup is that the Moroccans there are just so happy, flooding in not just from Morocco, but also all over the world including as far as Canada and the United States. Some of them fly in for just one game, enjoy the atmosphere, carrying one small bag because they could not find or afford a hotel. It is just crazy. I am seeing things that history has never seen. This is a great moment for the Arabs and the Muslims. We are raising a flag of unity for the whole Muslim ummah, and not just Morocco.”
If this is the atmosphere now, then one can only imagine the jubilation if Morocco were to beat France on Wednesday evening. “Qatar is the ideal place for Morocco to reach the final, but to beat France is a big ask,” said Sakerraka. “I just hope that all the African, Arab, and Muslim support can be their 12th man on the pitch.”
This is the neighborhood I grew up in. I’ve played football with, prayed with and eaten with Moroccans since I was a boy. I’ve lived their deep and infectious love for the game. But this is something unique. It is about a lot more than Morocco now.
There are hopes and prayers for a win over France and a place in the final, but one thing is for sure: history has already been made.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
London-based researcher and strategist specializing in Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs