Salah mania sweeps through Cairo as Liverpool secure Champions League victory
To root against Liverpool before Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah joined the Reds squad in June 2017 was OK. But once he made the move from Roma to Anfield, anyone in Cairo who dared to support their opponents risked getting kicked out of a cafe, or having a can of soda thrown at them.
No surprise, then, that hours before Liverpool defeated Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid to claim the Champions League crown on Saturday evening, a group of Spurs fans booked a whole cafe for themselves in Cairo's Nasr City, away from what they called the “Salah maniacs”.
The Tottenham fan group, which started as a gathering on Facebook, called on fans to attend the Saturday night match in the cafe, wear the team's shirt and bring along a positive spirit.
“I figured that if I watched the match in the usual cafe, I would get kicked out if I rooted for Tottenham,” Mohamed Said, an engineering student, told Middle East Eye.
Supporting Salah in his European games has become a social trend in Egypt, fuelled by both nationalistic sentiment and a sense of pride.
Many Egyptians admire Salah for his hard journey from being an amateur player in Cairo to lighting up Europe’s top stadiums.
Tottenham fans, not so much.
“The game was devastating. Liverpool made two plays that became two goals,” Said, who has been a Spurs fan for five years, said.
“I am personally not happy that Salah won, but I am happy that he made Egyptians happy.
“He has become the source of happiness for lots of people. He looks like us and many people can relate to his struggle,” added Said.
Another Spurs fan, Ahmed Samir, 29, had tears in his eyes after the final whistle. “The teams went through a lot this season, but if we did it once, we can do it again next year,” he told MEE.
'We deserve to be happy'
Meanwhile, Liverpool fans in the Ain Shams neighbourhood erupted with joy after Salah converted a penalty to open the scoring as early as the second minute.
The confident fans continued in celebratory mood up until the 87th minute when Divock Origi scored Liverpool’s second goal, securing the team's first Champions League final victory in 14 years.
Safwat al-Meehey, owner of a cart serving Egyptian fava beans, formed an alliance with a neighbouring cafe to serve sohour, the meal eaten before fajr prayer, after the match ended.
'Ever since I saw Salah cry when Ramos tackled him, I have felt like he is like my son'
- Um Farouk, cafe owner
“We joined forces to celebrate Liverpool and Salah,” the 45-year-old vendor said.
Meehey also changed the menu on the day to offer a special Egyptian fava dish named after Salah.
“Abu Mekkah [Salah] is like a son to all of us. We are hardcore football fans. He deserved it after all he has been through. We, too, deserve to be happy,” Meehey added.
“Egyptian people are kind and empathetic. They seek happiness in everything, no matter how small it is,” said Um Farouk, a cafe owner in the working-class neighbourhood of Mataryea.
“Ever since I saw Salah cry when Ramos tackled him, I have felt like he is like my son.”
Farouk was referring to the injury Salah picked up in last year's Champions League final against Real Madrid, when he cut a disconsolate figure as he was forced to retire from the match.
The Egyptian striker had been determined that he would not lose two finals in a row.
Prayers cut short
Saturday’s match coincided with the taraweeh Muslim prayers.
Hussien Abdel Haq, a 45-year-old imam at a local mosque, cut short the prayer to watch the game.
Worshippers in Ain Shams who pray behind Abdel Haq missed only the first 20 minutes of the game.
Some couldn’t resist when they heard hundreds of enthusiastic fans roar when Salah slotted in the early penalty.
As Abdel Haq, in his typical Azharite clothing, entered the cafe, the audience offered him free drinks.
“Before the prayer, a few young men asked me to keep it short. I didn’t mind because Islam promotes moderate beliefs,” the imam said, sipping from his specially made hot anise drink.
“I am not a big fan of the sport, but my heart smiles when Salah scores a goal.”