Journey To Blida: Part One

I was reluctant to write a personal blog. My English teachers had always taught me to write with a distinct idea of who my audience was and what they wanted to read. But when it comes to autobiographical genres (like blogging), I often find the truly spectacular pieces are primarily written for oneself. Criticizing football players behind the immunity of twice-removed digitizing mediums is also less daunting than exposing the personal insecurities one might hold, but I couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to share my poorly planned itinerary with genuine football fans…

The Pledge

I pledge to make a minor pilgrimage to Blida on the 2nd of June to attend Algeria vs. Burkina Faso – a friendly match.

My pledge is a precarious one. I can’t even promise I’ll make the match. The truth is that a barrage of unaccounted variables may yet stand on the road to Blida. What I can promise is that I will try my hardest to bypass all inhibiting obstacles.

Why?

I share a one-sided relationship with the Algerian national team. For its sake, academic examinations have been failed, and lots of money has been spent. Growing up in Canada, football was never something that I could easily follow. Nominally, I supported Arsenal and caught the odd match on early Saturday mornings. Thierry Henry was someone I aspired to, but never idolized.

Meanwhile Algerian football was a nonfactor in my upbringing. Until the age of 12, I could only remember one match: France vs. Algeria in 2001. In fact, I had not even watched the spectacle, but had overheard my father and his friends half-amusingly and half-morosely mumble about Algeria and its children never changing (La Marseilleise was jeered [35 secs] and then the match was prematurely cancelled because of a deliberate pitch invasion from Algerian fans at the Stade de France [1: 14]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fT6XqwvbRE).

But in 2007, I had an epiphany of sorts. When visiting an Aunt, I began lazily flipping through the channels of her illegally-programmed  satellite television. I stopped when I saw football on Canal Algerie. Algeria was playing Cape Verde Islands at home and my eyes stuck. This team clad in white and green was exciting. Nadir Belhadj, Rafik Saïfi, Madjid Bougherra and Karim Ziani led them to a 2-0 win in front of 66 000 in Algiers. I was sold on Les Fennecs when in-form striker Nourredine Daham nodded in his first international goal. In the ensuing eruption of joy, a dozen flares were lit and the players were immediately transported from a grainy pitch, to being thrust into a backdrop of thick, white smoke. I could barely see the ball, I could barely see the players, but I barely cared.

I quickly fell in love

Now I plan on going to my first match. I land in Algiers on May 17th. Awkward embraces are to be endured from aunties I barely know, classical Arabic classes are also on the horizon, but best of all, I’m looking forward to Algeria vs. Burkina Faso on June 2, 2013. The match is but a light-hearted friendly encounter, but, for me, it could be a spiritually fulfilling.

Attendance

The Algerian public is generally considered one of the best in Africa. Qualification matches routinely sell-out. Flares light up the skyline, green and white flags drape around clustered apartments and counterfeit merchandise upon counterfeit merchandise is peddled in narrow street markets.

Friendly matches tend to be a mixed bag. Following Algeria’s historic World Cup qualification in 2009, Les Fennecs hosted Serbia in Algiers. 70 000 grateful patriots squeezed into the Stade 5 Juillet and generated an atmosphere I’d hitherto been oblivious to.

Conversely, the Algerian FA booked a worthless friendly vs. Niger following the humiliating failure to qualify for Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012. Less than 10 000 anemic fans filled in to Stade Mustapha Tchaker to witness a straightforward 4-0 victory.

The circumstances setting up the Burkina Faso match seem promising. Under coach Vahid Halilhodzic, Algeria has won all of its home matches comfortably and morale has been buoyed by the arrival of talented reinforcements. An intense atmosphere is anticipated to provide Les Fennecs with a boost they might need during the next two road qualification matches (Benin and Rwanda).

Trials and Tribulations 

I reached out to forumers, journalists and friends to scavenge scarce survival tips. This is what I received:

A recent trend arose in Algeria’s matches. Fans began attending early – really early. Against Benin, doors were closed a good seven hours as all 45 000 seats had been claimed. What initially seemed brazen enthusiasm was later found out as ticket insurance. In prior matches legitimate ticket holders had been repeatedly turned away at ticket gates hours before a match. Tickets are but paper slips and are easily replicated. When counterfeit tickets are accepted, genuine supporters who fought tooth and nail for admission are shut out.

So how does one hold his bladder for 7 hours? He simply doesn’t.

When women first attended en masse in the aforementioned Serbia match, it was reported that bottles of urine were thrown at them. I never worked out why anyone would go through the trouble…As it is, human waste is an accessible by-product at Algerian stadia.

In addition, 45 000 excretory systems are forced to stand firm against the tortuous pull of the human bladder. Understandably, some simply cannot hold out and relieve themselves in vacant water bottles. Unfortunately for all, if match events take a turn for the worse, said bottles may be used as missiles.

Tony had another idea.

I have the next 14 days to prepare myself mentally and physically for the ardors of attending an Algeria match. How I do so will be documented via this mini-blog and, should I accomplish my mission, you’ll be here to share the euphoria with me.

…to be continued

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1 Comment on Journey To Blida: Part One

  1. Hey, I went to the Algeria vs. Gabon game and I can say that it was such an amazing atmosphere… growing up in NY I never had the chance to watch competitive games but I did watch Real Madrid vs. AC Milan last summer. And I also saw USA vs. Argentina. Of these three games I can safely say that the ambiance at 5 Juillet was absolutely amazing for a friendly. I really hope you can make it because it’s such a good experience. When that national anthem played….. simply amazing.

    Some tips…

    Try and get their early.. 5 Juillet didn’t have assigned seats so it was pretty much first come first serve.

    If you have to use the bathroom… try not to. 5 Juillet had disgusting bathrooms and the water kinda just piled up on the floor… god knows what concoction that was..

    Also, this might be an isolated incident but when I was there I asked the guy next to me “who just got substituted?” in French *I made the mistake to go to the restroom* and he didn’t reply… he kind of gave me a glare.. So i asked again in Arabic and he answered. It’s either this guy didn’t understand French (which he didn’t give that impression..) or he really didn’t want to respond to it.

    anyway, take care and have fun!

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