Football's "rules" of partnership
When an Italian couple decided to get married in a football stadium two weeks ago, some people described them as "nuts". Reem Nafie
provides an alternative perspective
Italian league matches have always been characterised with enthusiasm, speed and advanced football techniques. The match that was played two weeks ago was not any different. Thousands of spectators sat in the stadium cheering, clapping and attentively following the players on the pitch. Occasionally, the cameraman would divert the home-viewer's attention to the stadium's audience. On this particular day, two members of the audience were what a normal viewer would call "overdressed". This particular woman was dressed in a flowing white dress and a veil attached to her hair, while the man accompanying her was elegantly outfitted in a black suit.
The couple was ecstatic, cheering and jumping around. The bride getting over the inconvenience of wearing a wedding dress in a stadium, with crowds of people stomping on the white satin on her left and right. The groom was happy to be watching a football match and getting married at the same time.
The Web-based press the next day had a blast with the news -- many describing the stadium wedding to be "absurd" and "insane".
For those like myself, however, the event made perfect sense.
My interest in football started when I was a child. With just two daughters, my father was determined that one of them at least would acquire the Egyptian football gene. My sister showed no interest, and I was left to the task of falling in love with the country's national sport.
Officially, I fell in love -- enrolling on both the girls and boys football teams at school. I became a fan, and later, during my four years of college, I was declared a die-hard fanatic.
At first I secretly thought of myself as strange. But when my best-friend turned up late at his own engagement party because he was watching an Ahli match, I knew I was okay -- much like millions of other Egyptians both here and abroad.
And I discovered, that like others I had heard of, this football thing transcended all borders of my life. When the time came to choose a life partner, it so happened that he was a football freak as well.
It is generally perceived as a hard combination, given that it is typically said that "opposites attract" and football freaks "repel". But with a few basic rules, football couples can actually make it work.
Rule number one: One must have "meeting days". "Saturdays and Sundays are not days we can meet on," he informed me at the start of the courtship in matter-of-fact manner. The European weekend, of course, for football freaks like us are tabooed, as all European league matches are played on these days. The English, Italian and Spanish league matches played on these days "can't be missed", he also sternly informed me. In addition, during the European Champions League season, "Tuesday and Wednesday nights are also out," and "don't forget the UEFA Cup matches on Thursday night," he recited with ease.
I was shocked, at first. But that was not all.
"Egyptian international friendlies are not very important, but Ahli matches are mandatory, I can't miss an Ahli match," he warned. I understood completely, rhetorting that I "never" expected that we would be able to go out on these days, because of course I knew of his Ahli fan status and would "never", of course, dream of taking an Ahli fan away from an Ahli match. God forbid.
The Arab Champions League was this year's addition to the long list of matches he "just had to see". World Cup matches, African Cup of Nations, Euro 2004 and the Confederations Cup are all, of course "non-negotiable". For any football lover that basically goes without saying.
"Otherwise we can go out on any other day and of course if there is an emergency, matches would never be more important than you," he added, quickly, lovingly.
With time I came to realise that the phrase "emergency" is basically non-applicable in any "emergency" except that of funerals. I also learnt that rule number one can be slightly altered, if I insist on meeting. But that meeting must take place somewhere with a huge television screen airing the match. And if I expect conversation during this meeting, I can just think again.
Rule number two: We unanimously came to the decision that gifts exchanged between us should always be football related. Many girls would expect jewellery, perfume or teddy bears as gestures of romance. I have gotten used to different gestures. When he went to Italy for vacation, he came back with the ultimate gift: an AC Milan football T-shirt. Although he knew I wasn't an AC Milan fan, he wanted me to have the T-shirt so I would be "encouraged to support the team".
On my part I have done the gestures too: football T-shirts, balls, goalkeeper gloves, knee supports and football shoes all amongst the purchases so far. There have been the few, random "traditional" gift exchanges, but those are kept to a bare minimum, and are not as passionately accepted.
Rule number three: If the team he is supporting loses, he is expected to be in a bad mood for the next five hours -- at least. When Ahli loses, I learnt that I shouldn't talk to him, especially if it's an important tournament.
It was a lesson I learnt fast -- at the start of our union, I made the now-recognised terrible mistake of saying that Ahli deserved the loss for below par play. It resulted in both a three hour argument, and a lengthy lesson in football-related etiquette.
"You have to learn to respect the team you support," he lectured on that dreaded night. "And even if you want to be critical, never say their performance was bad."
It is advisable not to discuss anything with your partner for at least a few hours after his team has lost. In fact, it is preferable to stay miles away.
Rule number four: Our own engagement and marriage party can not be held on any of the above mentioned tabooed days of meeting.
"May is out of the question, because there are champions league finals," he told me as we prepared for the first of the above. "In June the Euro 2004 is happening so our only chances are July and August," he calculated. "In September the European leagues start again so we better seize the opportunity."
And for the sake of forward thinking, we spoke as well about the tying of the knot.
We should get married on an odd year, 2005, 2007, it would be easier," he said. Even years would be difficult because the Euro tournament (which takes place every two years), the World Cup (which takes place every four years) and the African Cup of Nations (which takes place every two years) are all held on even years.
To dampen any disappointment on the part of the future bride, he offered his brainwave of a proposal.
"We could get married on an even year and have our honeymoon in the country hosting the tournament being held," he offered.
Three months after beginning talk of the engagement date, it is still proving to be problematic to find a non-match day that does not fall on a working-week day.
As we struggle with that, we are also busy planning for the potential coming of the World Cup to Egypt in 2010. I know that if it is to come, and I believe as a football fan that it must and it shall, there is another set of rules that will have to be made. My football-freaky partner has already declared that he will camp outside the stadium for the two weeks of play. I'm not quite sure where I fit into that picture -- which must be discussed as of now -- given that I have no doubt that in 2010 he will do as he says.
It has been an effort, of course, to adapt to the football rules, but for a football fan like myself, in a football-crazy nation like my own, it is apparently quite the norm.