It makes one’s heart go ticking anxiously like one approaches the sea and can hear only the thundering sound of rolling waves but not yet see. There’s no other alternative than quicken one’s pace when descending El Gabal El Akhdar only to find one running down the street with enticing floodlights in sight, tempting like the sound of luring Sirens from Greek mythology tales.
The floodlights are the guardian angels of the Railway Stadium, home to Al Sekka Al Hadid in Nasr City, allegedly the oldest organized football club of Egypt. The informal game of ball had long held its place on the nation’s streets and alleyways. The history of Egyptian “football” goes back to 1882, the beginning of British occupation of Egypt, the English being the creators of the structured form of play. Military camps of the occupying forces spread around the Arab region and so too did the game. Given their place as the creators of this structured form of play, apparently the English were keen to spread game around the world.
In 1903, the Al Sekka Al Hadid Club formed the first football team, comprised mainly of British and Italian engineers working in the maintenance workshops affiliated to the railway authorities of the time. Despite claims that Al-Sekka Al-Hadid is the oldest Egyptian club, Gezira were established by the British in 1882 under the name El-Khedive.
The Railway Stadium is another oval affair, the massive floodlights overshadowing open and sweeping stands, holding approximately 30,000, with the home team, dwindling in the doldrums below the Momtaz since the early Nineties, attracting merely a few hundred for their games.
One accesses the ground from the buzzing square in Nasr City that serves as one of the cities traffic aortas to hit a quaint balcony type stand behind the goal, backing on to a swimming pool. From here the floodlights from El Gabal El Akhdar can be spotted. The tantalizing agony of it all. A second access point is a slipway just around the corner leading on to the cinder track even by private car. Once inside the reception of the grounds man is heart warming to they the least. Home sweet home. If Mariska Veres, the lady lead singer of the Dutch pop group Shocking Blue had visited Al Sekka Al Hadid she’d never written ‘Never Marry a Railroad Man’ with which song she and her band men stormed the USA charts back in the flower power days.
The cute main stand with its high roof, barely covering the back seats only, is the centerpiece of the Railway Stadium. From here seated stands curl around the pitch with respectable distance, separating the audience with iron fences that conjure up visions of the Berlin Wall or its Chinese pendant for that matter. Only athletes with a vaulting pole would manage a pitch invasion from the stands.
Al Sekka Al Hadid’s pitch would easily qualify for the sandbox of any long jump contest. Yet, the ground has a pleasant feel to it. One feels home at the oldest club of the country. If only Mariska Veres would have had the privilege.