Exploring the football fanatic culture of the Middle East

Exploring the football fanatic culture of the Middle East
New photo book ‘Football كرة القدم’ draws together pictures from over a dozen photographers to explore the region’s vibrant football culture.

During the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Romaisa Baddar, along with millions of others of Arab descent, was swept up in a wave of euphoria. Hosted in Qatar, it was the first time the major global sporting tournament had come to the Middle East, and in a great underdog sporting story, Morocco defied all the odds and made a run to the final four teams in the tournament, killing goliaths including 2018 tournament winners France along the way.

In the process, they had become the first Arab team and first African team to reach the semi-finals of the tournament. “For us as Arabs, and even for non-Arabs, it was such a shock to experience an Arab team play like that, and come so far,” Baddar recalls. “It sparked so much during and after the World Cup, everyone was really involved and it was great to see how happy all the non-Moroccan Arab countries were. It made me realise how much of a universal language football is.

Baddar is the founder and curator of Middle East Archive – a project that aims to reframe understandings and conceptions of the Middle East through photography. Morocco’s historic run sparked the idea for its latest photobook, Football كرة القدم. The book draws together the pictures of over a dozen photographers from the late 1980s until the present day, from countries including Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Egypt, Oman, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and more, to explore the MENA region’s vibrant football culture.

The pictures – taken by the likes of Rachid Ouettassi, Karim Sehib, Jinane Ennasri, Alex Webb and Salah Malkawi – are full of joy and engaging warmth, from women wearing hijabs having a kickabout, and children chasing a ball down a narrow street, to fans cheering on their favourite teams while watching a match on a television box from decades past. It’s a survey of football culture for ordinary folk and showcases just how integral it is to daily life in the Arab world.

“Football’s super important. I feel like every street you go to, every corner, if you hear people scream then you know football’s being watched somewhere,” Baddar says. “People are so passionate about it, they are willing to throw parties, or make fights, because it runs deep – this goes for the national team, the city league, or [global clubs]. I’m half Moroccan so when I go to Morocco I see all these kids wearing like Barcelona, Real Madrid shirts. It’s almost a religion.”

When researching the project, she found that football was ever present within photography from the Middle East, simply because of how visible and loved the game is in the region. “It was interesting for me, because every street photographer [that I looked at], none of them went to Palestine or Iraq to photograph football – it’s always like the Beirut Civil War, or Palestine struck by war,” she explains. “But it was always there, it was never missing in these projects. And that was cool because I felt it proved that it was such a big thing.”

The project helps to paint a rounder picture of life in the Middle East, which is often left out of the TV reports and newspaper cuttings that make their way across shores. “I think what a project like this book does is humanise people,” she says. “They’re very demonised in the media, like we only talk about the region in the numbers of deaths, the amount of casualties, and the tragedies that happen. You rarely hear good things in the news.

“So to come back to books like Football كرة القدم, it shows them in a light where they’re living in the same way as me day-to-day, like I have hobbies, so I think that can play a role in fighting the Islamaphobia existing now.”

Football كرة القدم is published by Middle East Archive.

As the Euros kicks off, check out Huck football content here.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Support stories like this by becoming a member of Club Huck.

Latest on Huck

Sign up to our newsletter

Issue 80: The Ziwe issue

Buy it now