by Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
I used to have a hard-time understanding the strong identification of Iraqis with a soccer club such as Real Madrid, which is a continent apart in geography and a galaxy away from Iraqi daily living conditions. Well, certain things involve much more than what meets the eyes.
On Friday, 13 May 2016, a group of Real Madrid fans gathered in Balad, a small Iraqi town in Salahuddin Province, a predominantly Shia city the Ba’th Party carved out of Baghdad in the 1970s, along with other territories taken out of other provinces, to create a new province with Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, as its provincial capital. The city later became the scene of a great crime against humanity for which Saddam was tried and executed.
A group of gunmen entered the café, where the unarmed Madridistas were enjoying their team’s game, and executed at least 13 of them in cold blood. The news reached the soccer club and the response was heartwarming: Real Madrid’s players stood in the middle of the field, wearing black armbands to commemorate their Iraqi fans.
Real Madrid went all the way to the UEFA Champions League final and won their historic 11th trophy. Once again, the President of Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez, followed up with another unique show of solidarity with the Iraqi victims of terrorism, telling the media:
“In moments as emotional as this I would like to dedicate this win to our fans in Iraq, who show the true values of madridismo”.
This intercontinental reciprocal loyalty shed light on an extraordinary relation between the greatest stars of European soccer, who enjoy all life has to offer, and their fans whose greatest aspiration is to be left alone to watch a soccer game on television in a country that lacks what the rest of the world takes for granted.
Real Madrid won more than the European Champions League’s tournament yesterday, they earned the respect from all peace-loving people around the globe. They proved that the relation between their players and their fans is not just about the appreciation of a good game, or a concocted one-way identification, but a true personal connection.