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Zamalek fans told us 'you can't play, people have died': Gaber

Ahmed Abd El Rasoul , Tuesday 10 Feb 2015
Omar Gaber
Zamalek's Omar Gaber points to the badge of Zamalek while saluting the fans during a Premier League game against ENPPI on Sunday, which was preceded with deadly clashes between fans and security forces that left at least 19 dead (Photo: Suhail Saleh)
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Omar Gaber, a Zamalek fan favourite who further enhanced his reputation among the supporters after declining to take part in an Egyptian Premier League game after 20 were killed prior to kick-off, has defended his teammates who came under fire for agreeing to play.

The 23-year-old, a product of Zamalek's youth academy, also said he would no longer play for the club. 

According to the health ministry, 20 people died as fans tried to enter the army-owned Air Defence Stadium in Cairo to see the league match between Zamalek and ENPPI.

The game went ahead despite the tragedy, prompting many to scold the referee and Egyptian Football Association (EFA) officials for declining to call off the match.

Gaber, who is known for his support of Zamalek fan goup the Ultras White Knights, was hailed by many after skipping the match despite being included in the starting line-up.

On Monday evening, he told private satellite channel CBC what he had witnessed outside the stadium.

"We were happy with the fans' return to the stands, as we believed it would be a good motivation to continue our league campaign successfully."

Sunday's match was open to the public, as since Wednesday, the interior ministry and the EFA had for the first time since February 2012 allowed football fans to attend Egyptian Premier League football games. Stadium killings in Port Said in 2012 left 72 Ahly fans dead in the country's worst-ever sport disaster.

"As we were entering the stadium, the fans stopped the bus, telling us, 'You can't play, people have died!', and showed us photos. They said five had died. All of us at the front of the bus said we wouldn't play."

"The match was supposed to be at 7:30pm. We thought surely the game wouldn't go ahead."

"Then the police came and shot tear gas to make the crowd disperse… The gas entered the bus, leaving us suffocating."

"We managed to open the bus door, with all the gas, and ran out into the desert of [Cairo suburb] Fifth Settlement."

"An armoured vehicle came to take the players into the stadium, and I and a few other players arrived later and got back onto the bus."

"We entered the stadium, and were told that there had been no deaths so the players came back on their decision."

"But I stood by my decision… Physically and emotionally, from what I saw, I couldn't play."

"I ask the fans not to attack the [other Zamalek] players as, if they had been certain of the deaths, of course they wouldn't have taken part in the game."

Earlier on Monday, the Egyptian Football Association announced three days of mourning and a stop to all football activities in the country after at least 20 died outside the stadium.

Police claim they died due to a stampede, while the Zamalek Ultras White Knights say the police fired teargas on the crowd. They Ultras say the event was premeditated, and blame new security measures that included a "metal cage" through which fans had to walk to reach the entrance to the stadium.

Investigations are still ongoing.

Egyptian prosecution are questioning at least 17 Zamalek fans on attempts to storm the stadium and allegations they assaulted police.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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