Why Raja Casablanca? I asked.
“Best, best, best”
The initial enthusiasm of someone who thinks he is a pinball wizard quickly deflated after a machine, accustomed to someone’s else hands, hungry swallowed my coins. With great regret I made conclusion that my magic somehow vanished (I blame digital world) so I moved to the next room where local boys were attending what looked like a serious tournament in table football. To avoid further embarrassments, I choose a little boy age seven or something to play with. I use to own one of these tables and I think I’m good in it. However, it turns that the boy is not from this planet and he puts all the balls behind my wooden goalie before I even managed my tactics. I admit, in my career of promising table football player I lived though a number of humiliating defeats. The one in a dungeon just off Rue el Fassi in Morocco’s capital Rabat is probably the worst one.
So I walked away, down the street and then left to a small alley following the irresistible smell of freshly baked bread. Like a black hole, a small bakery sucks me in. One of boys inside, Hassan is his name if I remember correctly, was wearing AC Milan shirt but as soon as he saw my camera he jumped and proudly put a green-and-white Raja Club Athletic jersey over it. Naturally, I took pictures of smiling Hassan and then followed him and one Ronaldo pushing carts with bread through the labyrinth of Rabat’s old town.
Raja Club Athletic from Casablanca, eleven times champion of Morocco, had reputation of being a people’s club for which was often more important to hide the ball and humiliate the opponent than to score goals. Many of my friends will now, with a loud sigh, think of FK Velež from Mostar in Bosnia and its legendary generation of artist players. It’s not a surprise that one of these geniuses, Vahid Halilhodžić, led Raja Club Athletic to the Moroccan title as its manager in late nineties.
Why DDR?, I asked.
Instead of the answer, I will copy here a few verses from Ahmed’s book The God of Transition. The poem is called “Ulf Kirsten, a star man” (the star here is a five pointed one, symbol of the revolution) and it’s obviously about the legendary player from East Germany who would raise his arms and spread legs making it look like a star after scoring a goal. After the Wall was brought down, Ulf played for re-unified Germany, hundred caps in total: 49 for the East, 51 for what came after.
When he came out to play in that white Germany shirt with Bundesadler on his heart
Instead of blue one with the sickle and hammer and DDR sign
Nothing was the same anymore.
We were not the same; the Europe was not the same
Only Ulf, firm on strong legs, suggested we can survive
And still score a goal.
Talking football with Ahmed, a Bosnian journalist, poet and great friend, is bit of a festival that requires special skills. Even if you consider yourself an expert, you will still be just a mere listener. Your knowledge is void, your observations shallow, your predictions pointless. Anything else you think you know – better keep it for yourself, open your heart and listen to Ahmed. He is a football encyclopedia filled with facts, emotions and hard to control passion. Watching matches with him, our routine for many years, is a rare pleasure in which I’m not sure what’s more important and entertaining – what is happening on screen or in front of it.
Ahmed, just like every real lover of the game, cheers for not only one team. Teams Ahmed loves, and whose jerseys he wears, have to be very special, just as he is special – a combination of power, knowledge and charm but above everything with often irrational and seductive moves of a genius underdog who came from nowhere to play against big powers. In his own team Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Miles Davis would be creators, Hendrix striker no matter the result. The final score is important but the game Ahmed plays is above everything.
I will be going to Brazil for the World Cup soon, to take pictures and enjoy the tournament. That is great and I’m humbly thankful to all gods involved in making it happen. But, what makes me even happier is that my beloved friend Ahmed will be there, to follow the tournament and dribble with verses about it. If you ever come across his byline or meet him in person, stop and listen what he has to say – I promise you won’t be disappointed.