Tuesday 10 December 2019

Soccer and Ramadan

Oranje helped take footie mad Moroccans’ minds off fasting, writes El Bachir Amenchar.

Moroccans love soccer. Go to any pitch in the country and you will find young Moroccan boys chasing the ball and giving it all they’ve got. But Moroccan footie madness is even greater than I thought.


Morocco didn’t qualify for the World Cup and social media were buzzing with discussions about possible Islamic, Arab and African candidates to support. Algeria? No, Algeria is causing too many problems for Morocco in the Sahara. Iran? Nope, they’re hopeless and the Iranian Muslims are completely different from us. Ghana? Nigeria? Perhaps, let’s see what they’ve got.


Oh and Holland are playing tonight. Let’s see how quickly Xavi and Iniesta finish them off. You don’t seriously think a Feyenoord defence and one lone Ajax player are going to beat the super strikers of La Furia Roja, a team that have won all the prizes for decades? It’s never going to happen but let’s have a look anyway. Sometimes Moroccans are just like Dutch people.


Orange headscarfs


Ninety minutes later, and we suddenly find ourselves on a different planet (just a figure of speech Mr Wilders, don’t break out the champagne). Dutch Moroccans took to social media in their droves. They, like the rest of the country, suddenly started to believe in Oranje. WAJOOOO 3-1…ROBBEN GATAAAAR…within minutes my friends had all morphed into Oranje fans.


A few matches down the line and girls were posting selfies sporting orange headscarves with Dutch flags painted on their cheeks. There were orange Moroccan biscuits and Moroccan homes with orange decorations. Every Moroccan had orange blood and it wasn’t from eating Berkane oranges. And then it was Ramadan….by then the Dutch had left the other group members standing.


None of the players had to fast, although Bruno Martins Indi turned out to be a converted Muslim and again Facebook was bursting with messages. ‘Yes, he grew up with Moroccans, that’s why.’  That’s great,  always thought he was a good player.’ Martins Indi is one of this country’s one million proud Dutch Muslims (yes Mr Wilders, there’s one million of us proud Dutch Muslims).




June 29, the first day of Ramadan. Holland play at 6pm. We can’t eat until 10pm so the game distracts us from any thoughts of food and drink.  Sunday afternoon prayer at the mosque is busier than normal because of Ramadan but later on in the afternoon the mosque is almost deserted. Only a few old men remain.

It’s a Moroccan tradition to bless each other a hundred times during the period of Ramadan. Blessings are conveyed though a group app, social media, the phone, messages and personal encounters. That day Ramadan blessings mingled with Oranje blessings. Holland won, it was a great game and the atmosphere on Facebook was one of euphoria. No one thought it could happen.


19 hours without food


The second day of Ramadan, Algeria face mighty Germany at 10pm. ‘Would the Algerians fast?’ The national anthems are played and a few minutes later the azan clock sounds. Azan clocks are mosque-shaped alarm clocks made in China programmed to mark the calls to prayer.

The sunset prayer also signals it is time to eat. The sound of the tv is turned down to enjoy the peal of the clock. Watching the game I break my fast with a date, as the prophet says.


The table is full of goodies. There’s harira (delicious Moroccan soup, simply the best soup in the world), briwat (folded pastry with a filling of chicken, fish or minced meat), eggs, dates, chebakia (honey-covered cookies) and fruit shakes. But even after a 19-hour fast they are ignored, everybody grabs some dates and a bowl of soup and plonks themselves in front of the television.


Nerve wrecking penalty shoot-out


July 5, the sixth day of Ramadan. Oranje are playing the quarter-final at 10pm. A prior engagement means we will be at an iftar benefit dinner (iftar means breaking the fast together) organised by a charity which helps orphaned children in Morocco. We bring iPads: we have to watch the game no matter what.

The extent of Moroccan footie madness never fails to surprise me: the place was packed and at 10pm exactly, after the presentation, the singing and the networking, a beamer was connected to the tv. The food had been served and football mania broke loose.


The Dutch were creating opportunity after opportunity against Costa Rica and frequent UUUUUUUYYY!s echoed through the room. Not much attention was paid to the food. After 120 minutes the nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out arrived and as Krul saved the final penalty everybody jumped up and hugged a neighbour. Sedate ladies in headscarves jumped for joy.


July 9, the tenth day of Ramadan. Oranje are playing the semi-final at 10pm. More soup in front of the telly, azam and national anthem sound at the same time. 130 minutes later Oranje are out. Facebook is quiet but slowly messages expressing regret are trickling in: what a shame, where was Krul. But mostly the messages express gratitude. Thanks for putting our country on the map, thanks for whirlwind Robben, thanks for the best coach ever and above all: thanks Oranje, for enriching Ramadan.


El Bachir Amenchar is chairman of the Moroccan International Business Network.



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