Messi or Ronaldo? Launching a Football League in Nablus
In alleys and classrooms, over coffee or sheesha, amongst the young and amongst the old, in the old city and in the refugee camps, a persistent point of contention strums the quiet baseline of Nabulsi conversation. Who do you support, Messi or Ronaldo? Are you Barca or are you Real Madrid? Be prudent in how you answer. After all, in one word, uttering either the name of the diminutive Argentine wunderkind or the hubristic, self-involved Portuguese maestro (can you guess who I prefer?), identity is pronounced loud and clear, loyalties are expressed, and partitions are drawn between family and friends. The question is larger than football, an essential, human question you might say, revealing more than you can imagine (at least in my book). I will even contend that preference for Leo or Cristiano speaks fundamental truths about your character, social values, even your humanistic persuasions.
Albeit overstated (as is my nature), the above does give voice to how central football is in the lives of the Palestinian people. It is a passion, a joy, a release, a common ground, a freedom, a sanctuary. Despite my austerely limited Arabic, I have carried on many pleasant exchanges revolving solely around football. Smiles, names, and demonstrations of footskills fill in the gaps of our linguistic divides. Though a bit clichéd and something of a thirty-second ESPN promotional ad for the World Cup, witnessing how our shared passion for football can supersede national boundaries or any other markers of separation (arbitrary or legitimate), bringing together young kids from Balata with young men from America, the power of the beautiful game is proven beyond dispute.
However, despite the widespread cultural affinity for the sport, when it comes to actually playing, there are very few options for young Nabulsis. Grass and open-spaces, never mind proper pitches, goals, and boots come at a high premium here. There is an endemic love for the sport, but few outlets for participation. The disconnect in a city so enraptured in football prompted Adam and I to take action in hopes of addressing this void as best we can.
Last Wednesday night, we launched the Nablus Premier League for young men aged 14 to 18 from the local neighborhoods. The response from our recruiting efforts has been very encouraging (we had 30 kids our first night), and we cannot wait to see how competition and excitement generates once the League Table goes on display, once the top scorers are announced, once the battle for the championship and city pride really gain momentum. We will be sure to keep you updated on our progress.
Until next time, stay fly
Colin is an intern at TYO Nablus.