Red-clad supporters gather at a café in the upscale Cairo district of Maadi every week, passionately waving the flag of their beloved team and producing emotional reactions every time a goal is scored or a goal-bound shot is cleared.
The most popular red in Egypt is represented by Cairo club Ahly, who enjoy a huge fan base in the country, far eclipsing their rivals including arch-foes Zamalek.
But those enthusiastic fans were not actually cheering on Ahly.
They were instead shouting slogans in favour of Liverpool, one of the leading British clubs who were about to win the English Premier League last season but fell at the last hurdle, surrendering the title to Manchester City.
Some of those who are ever-present in the café during Liverpool’s games are members of the Reds’ official fan club in Egypt, which was launched in 2012 after a “loose group of supporters,” as they describe themselves on their Facebook group, decided to formalise.
“Those who are in charge of the café know well that even if Ahly or Zamalek are playing, the only match that will be shown on television sets is that of Liverpool,” Ahmed Salah, the fan club’s vice-chairman, told Ahram Online.
“I’ve personally stopped following the Egyptian football since 2011, because it’s in a very bad state.”
Domestic football has been hit hard by the consequences of a political uprising in early 2011, with street turmoil and incessant clashes leading to the cancellation of two successive league competitions in 2012 and 2013.
An intermittent crowd ban has also taken place, with the sight of empty stands in a dour atmosphere depressing enough for football-mad supporters, many of whom decided to switch venues to keep their passion going at full tilt.
“The fans are hungry for real football and they are not allowed to even attend domestic matches. They have naturally turned to European football because of several reasons,” said football pundit Tamer Badawy.
“There is more exposure now to European football, unlike before when one would struggle to get a glimpse of his team or watch the highlights of their matches. Now you can easily watch your favourite team via a television subscription.
“The gulf in class between Egypt and Europe has also grown, and fans here are well aware that the real football is not played in Egypt.”
Most of Europe’s heavyweights have established official fan clubs in Egypt in recent years, including England’s top guns Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, German giants Bayern Munich and Spain’s most decorated side Real Madrid.
The members of those clubs have many things in common, including a regular activity of gathering every matchday to watch their teams. The majority are mere supporters but others are so ardent that they apply for a full membership to enjoy the benefits of being an “official fan.”
“Our yearly subscription fee is 25 pounds sterling,” added Salah, who was part of a group of several fans who used to watch Liverpool’s matches together back in 2006 before deciding to take it to the next level, directly contacting the Reds’ administration to set up the club a few years later.
“By being a member, you will enjoy many benefits. For example, you will get a 10 percent ticket discount for some of Liverpool’s matches as well as another 10 percent discount for the products of the official Liverpool store.”
Manchester United, Liverpool’s bitter rivals, are the latest side to establish a fan club in Egypt, only the second in the continent following South Africa.
There must be at least 50 members in the fan club every year to “maintain its official status,” according to chairman Mohamed Seif.
“The members can get tickets to a top-four match for instance,” Seif told Ahram Online, referring to United’s games against perennial Premier League challengers Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
“The club members receive a letter signed by United coach Louis van Gaal and a team kit signed by the players. They can also visit [United’s stadium] Old Trafford every year.
“If we reach 100 official members, a United legend such as Bobby Robson, Dwight York or Andy Cole can visit us in Cairo.”
The Egyptian League was finally completed last season and the new term got going, but the matches of Egypt’s best supported outfits Ahly and Zamalek rarely garner the interest of the past, making way for famed European competitions such as the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga.
The poor quality of domestic games and the sight of vacant stadiums are likely to see more and more fans opt to explore what it means to be an official fan of a European heavyweight in a passionate atmosphere.
“In the past, a Cairo derby between Ahly and Zamalek would have people glued to their seats. Now many people might even not watch it,” said Seif.
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