Port Said and the massacre there several weeks ago stuck with me for many days after it happened. Even through Super Bowl Sunday, when I might have been focused on American football, I was instead focused on Egyptian soccer.This was in part due to Graham Harman’s many posts on the subject
, but there were also constant (seemingly random) reminders, including a driver on Sunday night (who drove my friend Tadd and I, coming home from a Super Bowl party in Park Slope), whose name was “Nour,” and who, as it happened, was from Port Said.
Also there was something I could not shake, a sentiment of anger, that sprang from this mix of sport and violence (a violence which, if you saw the photos of the wounds on some of the survivors, became terrifyingly real, and not at all like the ‘violence’ we sometimes associate with sport). Of course, there had been riots before at football matches, and even people injured or killed. But not like this. And the worst part of it all was that, as the days rolled by, it seemed ever more clear that this was not just some football riot gone out of control, but a concerted effort on the part of the ruling military council to take revenge on al-Ahly’s fans for their role played in Tahrir Square’s “Battle of the Camel” just one year before.
Whether that is true or not (and there is a lot of evidence which says it is), for me, an interesting side-story to the Egyptian football massacre at al-Masry’s stadium in Port Said emerged the following week. It was one that I only picked up on because my football loyalties are with the German club Mainz 05 (from the 1st league).That week was a rather exciting one for the only Egyptian soccer player to play in the German Bundesliga, Mohamed Zidan, a.k.a. “Zizou” : He rejoined his old club Mainz 05 (where he is much beloved by the fans), a few days before the scheduled game against Schalke 04, yesterday (February 4), leaving Borussia Dortmund.
What stood out to me, however, was the brief press conference he gave yesterday, not about his transfer, or about re-joining his old club, but about something far more striking:
“Al-Masry ist mein Heimatverein, für den ich lange gespielt habe, auch in diesem Stadion.” [He was with the Al-Masry Juniors from ’91-’97, and then with Al-Masry’s professional team until ’99.—DPO] “Ich habe seit gestern sehr viel mit der Heimat telefoniert, meine Familie und meine Freunde, die in Port Said leben, sind von dem Unglück nicht betroffen. Meine Gedanken und mein Mitgefühl sind bei den Opfern und ihren Angehörigen.” [Al-Masry is my home club, and I played for them for a long time, and even in this very stadium. Yesterday, I was on the phone quite a bit with my homeland, and my family and my friends, who live in Port Said, were not affected by this catastrophy. My thoughts, and my sympathies, are with the victims and with their families.]
This massacre had affected Zizou as well, and in a very personal way, insofar as the stadium in which it took place was the stadium he had often played in, when he was just starting out as a professional footballer, and before he had made it to Europe. It had been weighing on his mind, as well.Yet, that press conference having been given, it didn’t distract him on the field, apparently, or perhaps it even motivated him: Yesterday he scored the first goal of the game, just 15 minutes in, and it was a goal that allowed Mainz 05 to achieve a tie with the formidable Schalke 04, thereby gaining one point, and moving a few places further up in the standings, away from the danger of relegation to the 2nd Bundesliga.
So the hero has returned to Mainz 05, and his thoughts, before the match, were with his family in Port Said. On the field, however, he was clearly focused on the game. And that sort of concentration, the ability to block out the serious problems affecting his town, and his family, as well as the other citizens of Port Said, is what is admirable.
Zizou scores against Schalke 04 on Saturday, February 4.