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Love at first sight

Mohamed El-Sayed shows how Egyptians quickly became the masters of their game

The history of Egyptian football goes back to 1882, the beginning of the British occupation. As the military camps of the occupying forces spread around the corners of Egypt, the Egyptians began to meticulously observe the foreign soldiers playing the novel new game from behind the fences. Some of them said it was odd, but the majority found it interesting, engaging, something worthy of experimenting with.

For many, it can be said to have been love at first sight, and it manifested fast -- the Egyptians were fast to begin playing football on the streets of the major cities and villages. And over time, the number of Egyptian players increased, leading to the formation of the first Egyptian team -- which played several matches against the British forces team. By the year 1892, the game was introduced to primary schools and the formation of little league football teams became a full-fledged affair.

On 19 February 1921, the first official Egyptian competition was held, bearing the name of Prince Farouk Cup. In December of the same year, the first Egyptian Football Association was formed and Gaafar Wali Pasha was named president.

The idea of organising a national tournament was the brainchild of Mahmoud Badreddin, secretary-general of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) at the time, who began calling for the necessity of creating a national football league by the end of 1946.

Indeed, Haidar Pasha, the president of the (EFA), adopted the idea and conveyed it to King Farouk with a goal towards obtaining a royal decree to launch the first Egyptian League. Being obsessed with football himself, Farouk embraced the idea and agreed to start the tournament in 1948.

The first Egyptian national league matches began on 22 October 1948, with the participation of 11 teams from Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez Canal region. The teams were: Ahli, Farouk (now Zamalek), Sekkah Hadeed, Tersana, Ismaili, Misri, Port Fouad, Olympic, Ittihad, Tiram and Yunan.

A 30-kg trophy made of silver and wood was given to the winning team, Ahli.

The Egyptians began to take increasing interest in the novel new competition, and clubs finances began to depend heavily on the revenues of selling the tickets of the matches.

After the 23 July Revolution, the King Farouk Cup's name became the Egypt Cup. Likewise, the Farouk Club became Zamalek, and a new face, Abdel-Aziz Abdallah Salem, replaced Haidar Pasha in the presidency of the Egyptian football governing body.

The officers of the July Revolution took great interest in the league, and were keen on attending the most popular match between the two arch foes, Zamalek and Ahli.

Until last year, 7445 National League matches were played, with 47 clubs taking part in the 55-year-old tournament. Ahli has won the trophy 29 times, while Zamalek comes second with 10 titles. Ismaili is third with three titles while Olympic of Alexandria, Tersana, Mehalla and the Arab Contractors have won it once.

ï The National League's first goal was scored by Farouk (now Zamalek) player Mohamed Amin after 10 minutes of his team's match against Misri on 22 October 1948. Zamalek won the game 5-1.

ï The fastest goal in the league's history was scored by Zamalek's Ayman Younis 11 seconds after the kick-off of his team's match against Suez in 1990.

ï In 1966/67, Ahli and Zamalek resorted to foreign refereeing for the first time in the history of the league.

ï Mokhtar Mokhtar of Ahli was the only league player who was included in the International Fair Play List after his retirement match in 1985. Mokhtar set a brilliant example in sportsmanship when he shook hands with Said El-Sheshini of the Arab Contractors -- who caused the injury that led to Mokhtar's retirement -- in order to calm Ahli fans, who blamed El-Sheshini for depriving them of one of their best players.

ï The first encounter between the two arch foes, Zamalek and Ahli, was held on 10 December 1948. It ended in a 2-2 draw.

ï Hassan El-Shazli of Tersana tops the league's list of goal-scorers with 167 goals.

ï Ahli's Saleh Selim, an icon of Egyptian football, was the top goal-scorer in one game, netting the ball seven times in his team's encounter against Ismaili in 1958 that ended with an 8-0 Ahli win.

Ahli's Ibrahim Said dribbles past Tarek El-Sayed of Zamalek

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