On Sunday night, 2 June, hordes of people descended upon the streets of Downtown Cairo to watch the Champions League Final held in Madrid this year.
Arriving at the Qahwa (street café) early was a smart decision; by the time the clock struck nine most of the seats, and glasses of tea, were full. The continuous supply of shisha and drinks meant that no one was going anywhere; visits to the bathroom would risk you your seat. Being crammed together like sardines made it easier to stay put, sip on your shay bi nana (mint tea) and occasionally jump up and yell when necessary.
Liverpool’s early penalty, taken by none other than Mohammad Salah, drew each of us out of our rickety wooden chairs and into the air. The atmosphere was contagious, and if you weren’t a football fan before then you certainly would become one now.
Even though the match’s most exciting moments happened in the first and final minutes, all the action in between still had people on the edges of their seats. Whenever Mo Salah broke through with the ball, effortlessly charging through the Spurs’ line of defense, euphoric chants erupted from the crowd watching.
If anyone was supporting Spurs that night they were certainly doing so quietly. Everyone was transfixed on the match, those driving through Cairo’s narrow streets would slow down and peer out of car windows to catch a glimpse of the action – being wedged shoulder-to-shoulder didn’t seem so bad after all.
The Qahwagy (men serving coffee, tea and other drinks) were working hard that night, threading through rows of spectators and making sure to dodge the odd shisha pipe being passed among the crowd. Even though the game wasn’t riveting throughout, leaving your seat unmanned was risky. Getting up to stretch or order another drink often resulted in your place being swiped by an eager football fan, and there was no time to argue in the midst of the match.
Another benefit of watching the Liverpool game in Egypt was the lack of rivalry among fans, and even though we all love a bit of friendly competition, having everyone cheer for the same team made it easier to celebrate when Liverpool ultimately won.
This experience beat last year’s; I gave up streaming the 2018 final earlier than I should have, and chose to sit in the garden instead of going to the pub. It’s safe to say that an outdoor area with a weak internet connection wasn’t the best place to watch one of the most exciting football matches of the year – and neither was a sports bar, apparently.
This year I watched the semifinal game between Liverpool and Barcelona in Alexandria, hoping there would be an excitable atmosphere in the days leading up to the start of Ramadan. Sadly, the match I caught was the one played in Barcelona, where Liverpool suffered a 3-0 defeat – but this wasn’t the main issue. Neither a sports bar nor garden were suitable places to watch a game like this, something of this caliber needed an atmosphere where people were sitting on the edges of their seats transfixed by the game.
From now on I’ll be catching all massive football fixtures from a local Qahwa – where the energy of Egyptian football fans is truly palpable.