The South American / European Cup – commonly known as the Toyota Cup was and has been my favourite tournament in the whole wide world. Come rain or shine, or historically snow, I say the whole wide world as it was the winners of the Copa Libertadores v the European Cup winners played on a December Wednesday night in Tokyo, Japan.
Barely covered by the European media, in the past AC Milan, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest all lost to the South American greats. In my time, I have witnessed Borussia Dortmund defeat Cruzerio. Manchester United, slaughtered in the English press for missing the beloved English Premier League overcame Palmerias from Brazil one year.
Then the other confederations got wind. The African Champions League winners, the Asian Champions League winners, The Oceania Region winners and the North American winners were asked to join and the FIFA Club World Cup was born.
Last year I met Brazilians who had sold their own cars to fund the pilgrimage to Tokyo where they saw their team, Corinthians, over come then European winners Chelsea in the final in Yokohama.
As documented before in this blog, the BBC, not even suggesting but stating that Chelsea should not be wasting their time in competing in such a tournament whilst Argentinians, Chileans and rival supporters of the Sao Paolo based club in Brazil, all got behind Corinthians to see if the South Americans could over come the Europeans.
The new formatted competition is now traditionally held two years in Japan and then two years somewhere else then back to two years in Japan. This time, that somewhere else is Morocco.
A country that has promised so much, has spectacularly let me down.
Wonderful drives from Marrakech to the coastal city of Agadir with the Atlas mountains in the distance would have made another epic blog with another gallery of “Landscapes from the Steering Wheel”.
I could have had yet another rant about English football fans, brain washed in to believing that their leagues are the best in the world but when in fact football in Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Morocco are the places for passion, style and atmosphere – and perhaps the big games in Italy. In my opinion no where else comes close.
When I have been to FIFA house in Switzerland to cover the FIFA World Cup Bidding, my vote would have gone to the country of Morocco. On paper it looks a great place. The spiritual home to may Led Zepplin fans where Page and Plant wrote such classics like Kashmir. Epic film lists always include “Cassablanca”. Still evident today, European travellers go by train, drive, hitch hike or boringly fly to this country. It’s a great country.
I present Raja Casablanca.
But weren’t the winners of the African Champions League were Egyptian Champions Al-Ahly? Yes – but in the FIFA Club World Cup, the Champions of the host nation usually play a token gesture game , usually against the Oceania winners to usually make up the numbers.
Never before have they taken over the competition and reached the final – ensuring the traditional and original South American v European winners will not face each other.
In my belief system, people who don’t know the meaning of passion need to go to a Galatasaray game. Louder than any health and safety regulated pop concert, Galatasaray fans make your ear drums ache. I always say go to a Milan derby in the San Siro – however, still wanting to discover, I had never encountered Raja Casablanca.
This would have been a great place to do a daily blog, but Moroccan communications have let me down.
A magnetic place to travel, explore and meet friendly people for the regular tourist…
Driving through literally through markets, encountering donkey pulled carts on roundabouts with spectacular scenery making memorable road trips…
In true African style, the European is the target for money – especially tips. Upon collecting the hire car, whilst filling in the paper work in the Airport Car Park, our trusty Renault was given a once over with a bucket and rag only for the car washer to then stand blocking our path until he was given money for a car wash we didn’t want or indeed request.
Parking in Agadir in the free public car parks, we saw our hire car be thumped to death by fluorescent jacket wearing self-employed car park attendant demanding cash for allegedly ‘saving us a space’.
Walking along the stunning coastline, just like in Egypt tales of being interrupted by African street sellers trying to flog sunglasses, wooden camels and rip of watches made the day that bit more exciting!
Marcello Lippi, one of the great masters of football from Italy looks a tired man. His players are tired. He told us so in a Press Conference. First winning the Chinese league, then the Asian Champions League his Guangzhou Evergrande FC team his team brushed aside Egyptian and African Champions League Champions Al-Ahly 2-0.
But that was not to be.
Whilst European friends doing 9-5 office jobs, expecting to be reading my daily blogs, expecting me to be documenting North African football culture on non-match days simply did not believe my daily routine was to be sat in the reception of the fantastically Booking dot Com reviewed, great value for money hotel beach resort retreat in Agadir. What normally took ten minutes in Europe, five in Eastern Asia took literally all day in Morocco.
Regardless of what I saw away from the pitch, with my network of contacts I was in for a busy time. The depressing economics of being a football photographer were lifted when I knew I was to supplying images to four continents from this competition.
The only day off I had as such was met with great anticipation. I discovered Kawkab Marrakech were at home. If the fans were anything like Raja Cassablanca it was an ideal opportunity to contribute to my growing project of a possible new book entitled “Football Culture”.
Emailing from Morocco has not been the easiest. In fact the only website which seems to work regardless of FTP errors, SMTP failings, failing to load HTTP content is Facebook.
Indeed the official website of Kawkab Marrakech FC is now a just Facebook page.
But just like five minutes means five hours in Morocco time, first the Moroccan League did not replying to my emails. Nor the club themselves. Only the Official Facebook Supporters Club replied – via Facebook. They even gave me the Presidents personal Facebook page – whom I messaged for accreditation. He did not reply either.
At one of the games, I asked the friendly Moroccan photographers for help. They went out of their way and found the accreditation office for the Moroccan National Football Team who could apparently fix anything. Upon shaking his hand – I neglected to adopt the cultural greeting of kissing him – I explained I wanted to go to the Kawkab Marrakech match.
The initial response of “It would be an honour for an English Professional to take pictures at one of our League games” resulted in another frustrating flat feeling when his mobile phone went off, with it he produced an about turn as he disappeared into the stadium – never to be seen again.
Hence I never got to Kawkab Marrakech.
I embrace new cultures normally, except Nigeria, where I dream of having my finger on the red nuclear war head button. Morocco is a wonderful country. The hotels are stunning, We are living like Princes for half the price of a Blackpool B+B.
But I am here to work and sadly no longer do I shoot rolls of film, find the local DHL or FedEx office and post the films back home. In these times, clients want ten pictures sent to them during the game. Thankfully after a terrible first match for communications in the stadium, the Local Organising Committee finally understood the requirements of TV and Media and by the second match I would have rated the working conditions as fair to suitable whilst normally shy FIFA officials keeping themselves to themselves mixing with the foreign traveling journalists to Morocco de-stressing themselves from the local ways.
The stadiums look and are wonderful. Floodlights a photographers dream, but sadly shocking when it comes to shipping out images to global clients.
After we left Agadir, we headed back to Marrakech.
The first game was the 5/6th place play off. Al-Ahly (Egypt) v Monterrey (from Mexico).
Whilst the green and white supporters of Raja Casablanca and the black and white Brazilian fans filtered into the stadium, one thousand bare chested Egyptians made more noise than a packed out Arsenal Stadium.
The Monterrey fans decorating their bottom tier position in the stadium with fabric made streamers, banners and a funky drum beat soundtrack to the game backed by a medley of songs, it was sometimes hard to just focus on the pitch.
The local Police then fighting with the Mexican visitors taking banners off them, before it seemed FIFA officials resorted order, the banners were up and the drum beat continued as the won 5-1. Despite their loss, flares were thrown on the pitch by the Egyptians, and with streamers and toilet rolls being hurtled down from their top-tier position, there was no anger that they had lost, just a celebration that they were there representing Africa.
With Bayern Munich already through to the final after the last game in Agadir, the second semi-final match in Marrakech was nothing short of amazing.
Raja Casablanca had surely had their 15 minutes of fame. Triumphing over the Mexicans and New Zealanders in the previous rounds they faced the mighty Atletico Mineiro featuring the likes of Ronaldinho. We all thought, expected, even demanded a 4-0 drubbing by the Brazilans to ensure the traditional South American / European final.
The men in green and white had not read the script. The script of tradition. 0-0 at half time, the local team, the host team who you could argue had not won a continental title and should not even be in the tournament, playing in conditions that they are used to, in their own homeland, sometimes home advantage is everything. Were the Brazilans tired? Not up for it? Certainly not. The simply got stung.
A Ronaldinho free kick made it 1-1.
But then a penalty. 2-1 to Casablanca. And then in the closing moments, the ball hit the bar and the unknown Vivien Mabide of Raja Casablanca made it 3-1 with the rebound.
Amazing scenes of joy – my mission was to document the Brazilians – it’s a long way to travel by anyone’s standards to see your team lose 3-1.
But my favourite picture was right at the end as I was leaving the stadium. Raja Casablanca, probably the politest set of fans during the 90 mins I have ever known. A goal was ruled offside – no boos, no anger to the officials, just acceptance and they carry on singing. At the end of the match there was a stark contrast.
The mocking was crazy. THREE fingers up in the faces of the Brazilian fans. Those who were crying, grieving, contemplating life were rudely interrupted by Raja fans wanting their pictures taken with the South Americans.
Mini scuffles broke out. Most of the Brazilians just left in anger. Except one girl who gave a Moroccan the golden finger.
After waiting more than 110 minutes for some food with the Brazilians in our hotel after the game I was warming to our South American cousins. However no chance of chatting them up by the pool to see if they could accommodate me for the World Cup as yet again the day is wasted by more and more editing and attempting to send pictures!
…. eventually I drove to the main stadium and found myself on the pitch without any security. Luckily the power sockets and internet connection leads were still there from last night, along with piles and piles of rubbish. Thankfully everything was still switched on and for the first time in a week I got the feeling of achievement as my pictures were actually going to my clients!
The world’s media is going crazy about the referee’s vanishing spray – not one defence wall has gone forward in these matches…
I just feel sorry for the Mexicans and Brazilians who have not got to the final.