The following excerpt is from ‘Peace Ball – Playing Football in a Refugee Camp’ in Jordan on the day the Abu Ghraib torture photos became global news. The full article is published in Issue Twenty of The Blizzard.
The opposition, immaculate in a shiny green kit, stood waiting in formation. Angry, serious and focused. Their Abu Ghraib brethren may have been stripped, tortured and paraded on newspapers and TV screens around the world, but they weren’t going to be humiliated by a bunch of foreigners today.
We kicked off, and despite the stares and the razor wire and the on-field silence and intimidation, the opposition weren’t quite sure how to resolve that anger into action. I was playing up front, and darted from the centre-circle, stepped over a couple of axe-swinging tackles before slotting a pass to our unmarked star Japanese striker. He drove the ball into the bottom-right corner, and after muted celebrations we found ourselves one-nil up in the opening minute. Not that our resistance lasted. The refugees passed, shot and tackled with the fiery passion you’d hope your own team would muster in a relegation dogfight.
I recall a score of 5-1, and that we were glad to hear the whistle. I thought it might be a match of fouls and fights, but all they wanted to do was win. And then shake our hands, and smile. And chat about football. In a short speech the Refugee XI captain humbled us by thanking us for the game, for visiting the camp, and then offered us hot tea and sweet baklava.
I’m not saying that sport can change the world, but on a day when a white face in the Middle East represented sadistic prison guards from the Crusading West, kicking a ball around was a simple common experience. We weren’t aliens speaking different languages or worshiping – or not even believing in – different gods. We were just a few blokes running around a football pitch rather than shooting at each other.
Read the full article in Issue Twenty of The Blizzard.