It is my intention to contribute to this website with a pictorial series of the Egyptian footballing landscape. Egypt is the cradle of ancient civilization, the museum of history, and the melting pot for all the greatest civilizations over centuries. On Egypt’s soil, Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic civilizations flourished, leaving behind a heritage that dates back to more than 5000 years.
Every inch of its soil tells a story or a legend that has long puzzled and marvelled scientists and intellectuals. Everyday it unravels treasures and secrets of human advancement in many fields that range from astronomy to mummification. On this time-honoured land, arts and sciences have flourished and religions have emerged.
So has the art of football. The game of ball, it is commonly known, dates back to long before the history of most nations on planet earth; to the heart of civilisation and the homeland of the Pharaohs. But as the geography of the world took on more ordered form, and the boundaries defining nations were mapped out in bold, that haphazard kicking around of a ball adopted its own structured modus operandi.
In January and February 2006 Egypt hosted the African Cup of Nations for the fourth time in the history and the organising country invested huge amounts of money to upgrade facilities. Six stadiums in four cities were used for the 32 matches, with the opening match and the final being played at the Cairo International Stadium, that famous cathedral of football.
Generally speaking, Egyptian grounds are like pyramids and mosques, barring the odd fine exception. If you’ve seen one, you have seen them all. There’s the inevitable and dreaded athletics tracks, a semi-covered main stand running three quarters of the pitch, open stands sweeping round the corners only to meat uncovered seating opposite main stand.
The main reason for the oval ground landscape in Egypt is that the vast majority of football clubs are actually omni sports clubs, with football being only one of the activities. The biggest club in the country, Al Ahly, meaning ‘National’ were founded in 1907 hold nineteen sporting branches, including basketball, volleyball, swimming, hockey and squash. Arch rivals Zamalek started out as the Mukhtalat Athletics club in 1911 with an archer still visible in its emblem.
In Cairo the majority of grounds are set in huge parks, some of them dwarfing any Olympic village. The severe safety regulations are almost disencouraging, turning grounds into almost unassailable fortresses. Only members are allowed access and any request to take photographs is met with sheer disbelief and instinctively denied by default to start with. It’s like asking permission to enter a mosque star naked. These pictorial series result from persistency, determination and bluffing a way past a chain of security people, usually ending up in the stadium manager’s office after endless begging, smoking a waterpipe. It’s been close to a fata morgana to eventually capture Egyptian grounds on camera.
You can read the entire series of these articles at the spots section under Egypt Stadiums link.