Internationalism : Football & Solidarity

By Gerardo Lara

Image: The cover of “Un Maillot Pour l’Algérie.”

On July 4, 1963, in Algeria, a significant football match was held, a friendly that under a scene of joy and brotherhood was held in a stadium packed with 15,000 fans that gathered to watch the confrontation between the teams of the newly independent Algeria versus Egypt.

The Stade du 20 août 1955 (stadium August 20, 1955) is a representative example of a historical episode and date for the Algerian people, in which one of the most atrocious massacres was perpetrated in the Constantine region (Algeria), this stadium is located in the heart of Algiers and was inaugurated in 1930 originally under the name of Stade d’El Annasser.

After a bloody and long fight against French colonialism, the Algerian people obtained their independence and organized elections in October 1962, with Ahmed Ben Bella being elected, who had been acting as interim head of government, as well as the highest representative of the National Liberation Front (FLN), a movement that fought for the independence of Algeria. Already elected president, Ben Bella, organized this football match in 1963.

The players who lined up for the Algerian team were the same brave and conscientious players who made up the FLN team in the years of French colonialism, so that with the games they played, they opened channels of contact and solidarity with other Non-Aligned countries. True sacrifice of players, who decided to give up on their football career for the independence cause, one example would be the case of the so-called “Algerian Pearl”, Mustapha Zitouni, who regardless of his well-earned fame thanks to his masterful skills, which led him to stand out in clubs like AS Monaco in France, decided to risk everything for its people.

The Egyptian national team was formed by the sons of the Egyptian revolution, after the coup of July 23, 1952, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, “The Tiger of Fallujah”, to overthrow King Farouk who was the representation of servility, corruption, and inequality so characteristic of imperialism, the rebellion was the reflection of a country that could no longer bear to be trampled on.

In Nasser’s Egypt, strong measures were taken after the victory, such as the nationalization of the Suez Canal, a process of expropriation and nationalization of the assets that belonged to the British colonialists. In addition, the distribution of land was promoted through an agrarian reform and a new party was formed, the National Union, whose project was the mass organization that would cement a new Egyptian socialist society.

In the sports aspect, the Egyptian soccer figure of the moment would be the striker Hassan El-Shazly who would lead his team to play the African Cup of Nations in 1963, a competition in which with a fantastic performance he would obtain the top scorer title thanks to 13 goals in that edition of the cup.

The description of the event, of this match between Algeria and Egypt already suggests an unprecedented episode, but there was still an even more particular element, which adds importance in the political, sporting and historical aspect.

There was a special guest in the stands, Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna. Cuba and Algeria always had an important link, which began from the experiences of armed struggle in the search for freedom, while both nations were under processes of independence or liberation (Cuba and its Barbudos against the dictatorship of Batista and Algeria with the FLN fight). In 1958, the FLN would establish its government in exile and the Cubans in 1959 would achieve the triumph of their Revolution. Since then, Algeria and Cuba have intertwined their paths. It is obvious then that the first nation to recognize the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, before and after its independence, was Cuba (1961 – 1962).

Hence, Ben Bella himself summed up this relationship in these simple words: “Without our having looked for it, history has invested our two small countries with a great mission. Side by side, Cuba and Algeria faced their destiny, without weakness and with faith. “

After 90 minutes of the match, the score was only an insignificant number, a meaningless statistic. This match is a worthy example of how football can be a catalyst of values, a promoter of the union between peoples in which ties of solidarity are strengthened. It is clear then, football and class struggle are side by side elements in the engine of history.