When Zamalek played Fayoum on Sunday in a qualifying match for the Egyptian Cup, the most entertaining moments were not on pitch.
The game took place in Fayoum Stadium, which is surronded by a dense urban area. Dozens of balconies directly overlook the pitch and during Sunday’s game, these were occupied by local families comfortably enjoying tea, cookies and shisha as they watched Egypt’s favorite spectator sport.
The first three quarters of the match were relatively uneventful with a nil-nil score. About 20 minutes before the end, Zamalek broke the deadlock, taking a one-goal lead. This is when the pandimonium started.
The game stopped suddenly and the TV cameras panned off the pitch to show a spectacular fight between Zamalek fans in some of the upper stands and the crowds of people in the surrounding buildings who had, just moments before, been peacefully enjoying shisha on their balconies.
It was unclear who had started the hostilities or indeed what the people on the balconies held against the Zamalek fans. Maybe these angry balcony sitters were disgruntled Fayoum fans, upset to see their team on the way out of the cup. Or maybe they were secretly fans of Egypt’s other biggest club, Al-Ahly, who wanted to taunt fans of their rivals Zamalek.
Whatever their motives, the battle was fierce as the anti-Zamalek fans pitched bottles, spoons, glasses and whatever else they could find at the stands below them. Zamalek fans returned fire with stones and any other projectiles they could get their hands on. While the ticket holders had numbers on their side, the balcony fans had the strategic advantage of a high position.
The battle continued fiercely for a while until armed police broke it up by ejecting Zamalek fans from the stadium, presumably because it would have been far more difficult to control those sitting on their balconies.
Eventually the stands concerned were cleared out, and the balcony fans, who had taken temporary refuge inside their apartments, returned to their previous positions to declare victory.
Zamalek won the football match by that one goal. They are now preparing to meet Al-Ahly in the Egyptian Cup next Wednesday. But what truly stood out in this game was not the playing, but the confrontation between “aerial” troops and “ground” troops. In 35 years of watching football matches on five continents, this reporter has never seen anything resembling this kind of battle. Only in Egypt.