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Egyptian football too boring for Europe-oriented fans

Dull domestic football matches are being deserted by Egyptian fans, whose passion has turned to European leagues

Hatem Maher, Friday 18 Apr 2014
Egyptian football teams have been mainly playing behind closed doors since the 2011 uprising (File Photo: Ahram)
Views: 1574
Views: 1574

Karim Khoshala, an ardent supporter of Ahly, was not even aware that the Cairo giants were facing a modest opponent in the premier domestic competition while he was enthusiastically watching an English Premier League clash featuring title-chasing Liverpool.

Earlier this month, Ahly crushed Maqassa 4-1 in the Egyptian Premier League to continue their pursuit of an eighth successive title, but what was unthinkable for Khoshala in the past few years has become largely customary - he no longer cares about his beloved team.

"I did not even know that Ahly were playing. It was much more important watching Liverpool's game against West Ham," said Khoshala, reflecting a growing trend among young football fans in Egypt, whose attention has drastically switched to another part of the globe.

High-profile matches in Europe’s top leagues have always been on the agenda of Egyptian fans, but domestic football used to have the priority, with the heated rivalry between Cairo duo Ahly and Zamalek dominating headlines and sparking non-stop debates about who deserves supremacy.

But a series of problems plaguing Egyptian football have taken their toll on the quality of the game, diminishing passion among supporters and lessening the hype surrounding domestic competitions.

The 18-day uprising that unseated autocratic president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and the ensuing political turmoil forced several stoppages, led to the cancellation of two successive Premier League seasons and prompted the authorities to enforce a crowd ban.

Purely football talk made way for some off-field topics, such as whether the hardcore fan groups posed a threat to security during matches, and little was left from the times when an Ahly-Zamalek derby would have people glued to their televisions.

"We don’t have a proper football system, we don’t have any plans … and the fans are absent from the stands, so it’s only natural that people would rather follow European matches," football pundit Khaled Bayoumi told Ahram Online.

"Egyptian fans are aware of everything, and they know very well that we don't have real football. We will not even get closer to Europe anytime soon.

"Football officials in this country are only concerned about their own interests; they do not care about drawing up plans to improve the poor state of football."

The ongoing crowd ban has been particularly blamed for the lack of interest in domestic matches, with the fan groups usually creating feverish atmospheres at stadiums to liven up even the dullest of games when they are present. 

Repeated clashes between the likes of Ultras Ahlawy, die-hard fans of Ahly, and security forces prompted the authorities to reverse a decision to gradually lift the ban, with the sight of empty seats depressing enough for the football-mad supporters.

"A match without fans is worthless. If Real Madrid played against Barcelona in an empty stadium, people would not be very interested in the game," Bayoumi added.

European-oriented fans

Social media comments on big European nights far outnumber discussions related to domestic football, even during vital Egyptian Premier League games.

Many Facebook groups have been created to support European heavyweights or discuss their prospects in their respective domestic competitions or the elite Champions League, which is of special importance to Egyptian fans.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, cafes are usually filled with enthusiastic fans who shout slogans in a stadium-like atmosphere, and the #UCL Twitter hashtag trends in Egypt.

"The gap is big between the number of people who watch Egyptian matches here and those who watch European football," said Mohamed Ali, a waiter at a street-side café in Cairo's upscale district of Maadi.

"It's usually very crowded during European Champions League games. We never see such large numbers of people watching any Egyptian games, even those of Ahly and Zamalek."

The fading interest in domestic games has already affected the football business, with some media moguls, who had generated millions of pounds during the peak of competitiveness, struggling to keep their television channels afloat, thanks to a dramatic decline in ad revenues.

"Things were very different in the past, when people used to eagerly await some hot league contests involving the likes of Ahly, Zamalek, Ismaily and Masry. I'm not sure if those days will return," Khoshala commented.

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


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