Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Ittihad: 100 Years Old

Ittihad Club of Alexandria is celebrating this week its centennial with Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon Club and many other events, reports Ameera Fouad 

Al-Ahram Weekly

Ittihad Alexandria Club, known as Ittihad Al Skandery or Sid Al Balad, is one of the oldest clubs in Egypt and the one of the oldest football teams in Alexandria. Founded in 1914, Ittihad is the fifth oldest football club in Egypt following Ahli, Zamalek, Seka Al Hadeed and Olympi. Ittihad club is regarded as the most popular club in Alexandria with an estimated fanbase that creeps into the thousands. Thus, in its celebration for its 100th birthday, the club board members have taken measures to make it a memorable occasion.

Ittihad Club has a rich and long history; legendary basketball achievements, reaching the Egypt several times, while also being the third most popular football club across the nation following the famous clubs;  Ahli and Zamalek in Cairo. As such, nothing could be more rewarding than celebrating its centennial in a breathtaking football match played with Sporting Lisbon, Sporting Clube de Portugal at the Alexandria Stadium. In a thrilling encounter, both teams played to a 2-2 draw.

Similar to Sporting Lisbon, which was one of the founding members of the Primeira Liga in 1933, Ittihad was one of the founding members of the Egyptian Football Association in 1921. Domestically speaking, the two clubs share almost the same history. Ittihad won Egypt’s Cup six times throughout its history in 1926, 1936, 1948, 1963, 1973 and 1976 respectively. It played the second round of the CAF Confederation Cup in 2006 and trice competed in the CAF Cup Winners Cup. It is also worthy to note that Ittihad was the first Arab and Egyptian club to compete on an international level when it made its first international trip in 1921 to Turkey, Greece and  Bulgaria in a visit that lasted for fifty days.  Likewise, Sporting Lisbon won a total of 18 Primeira Liga titles, 15 Portuguese Cup, four Championship of Portugal titles and seven Portuguese Super Cup titles.

Sporting Lisbon was founded in 1906 and is known in Portugal s one of the Tres Grandes (The Big Three) football clubs in Portugal. Correspondingly, Ittihad Club is also known as “Sid El Balad” (The Master of the town).

“Well, it is a long history!” Gasser Moneer, the executive manager of Ittihad Club said with a deep sigh. “Sid Al Balad, this name was given to Ittihad Club a very long time ago as it was the first pure Egyptian club, made by Egyptians for Egyptians. It was a slap in the face of occupation at a time where Ittihad successfully united four small clubs under its umbrella.  In addition, as Alexandria was the main host of Mustafa Kamel’s greatest speeches, the founders of Ittihad played similar roles in fighting the colonisation.”

“Moreover, Ittihad Club is also well known for its administrative fees that are much less than any other club; old or new. That is why it reaches out to the poorest areas and impoverished classes where people cannot afford to pay thousands of pounds for a club membership. That is why it is called Sid Al Balad as its policy never changed. Since 1914, it is purely for all people, of all classes.” Moneer added.

Speaking at the event all Alexandrians are waiting for, he said, “Due to the close history we share with Sporting Lisbon and because of its very high popularity among Egyptians, we decided why not? Why not make all our Ittihad fans happy and proud that they do belong to such a grand club. It is also a great opportunity for Mahmoud Abdel-Razek (famously known as Shikabala), who now plays for Sporting Lisbon to return to Egypt and play at the Alexandria stadium’’.

“However, because of strict security rules, only 1000 spectators were allowed to attend such a celebrated football match. Although we all respect whatever actions security forces deem necessary to prevent prospective chaos or violence, I doubt there will be any such threats.” Moneer explained.

The same was confirmed by Mohamed Mesieilhy, the head of the club centennial committee, who said in the press conference held Sunday afternoon, “As we do welcome Sporting Lisbon football team members and all the delegation coming here, I congratulate each and every member in Ittihad club for the trust they place in this committee. We are doing our very best to have a full-blown year of achievements and of earnest celebrations that I hope they could be up to the history of such amazing club. We exerted much effort with security forces to increase the number of fans allowed to attend the match, but all we could get is 1000, which is quite disappointing and discouraging. However, I think that governor, Tarek El Mahdy, has the authority to ask for an increase in the number of spectators allowed to attend the match.”

“We will never get another chance to host such a great event in Alexandria. I feel very proud to be the head of the team playing the match. Whatever the results should be, I do hope we can be good representatives of Egypt” Talaat Youssef, Ittihad Football head coach told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Sporting Lisbon president Bruno de Carvalho told the press, “I would like to thank Ittihad Al Skandery Club for its magical congregation. We would like to thank everyone here in Egypt for their warm hospitality. The match is just a very small step to build strong relations between the two clubs. Still, we hope for a larger number of spectators to be present in the match as we will do our best effort for the best play.”

“Lots of news about Shikabala is streaming around on our official Facebook page and in our Twitter account saying, (pointing to Shikabala) that “he is ours,” so please excuse him for what he will do, with the Egyptians tomorrow in the match,” Bruno added.

The centennial celebration provides an excellent opportunity to consider other details relating to Ittihad’s long history and achievements. How the name was derived and chosen? If footage could be traced, Ittihad Al Skandery name is derived astoundingly from its translation, Alexandrian Union club. “The club was established mainly because of the people of Alexandria. At the beginning of the last century, all Alexandrians were in dire need to have a club of their own and for only Egyptians, without any infringement or interference from the British occupants.”  Mohamed Alaa, Ittihad Sporting committee member told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Thus, a group of school students decided to establish a club they named as the Champions Union. At the same time, another group of youth formed another club named Al Hadeetha (The Modern). Consecutively, these two clubs were merged into one club under the presidency of Mr. Hassan Ramsy under the name of the “Ittihad Al Watney” (The National Union). Surprisingly enough, a group of other Alexandrians established another club which they named Al Skandery but with a wider prospective for the future. Hence, these two latter clubs were united and amalgamated to establish a new powerful club. Thus Ittihad Al Skandery was born, chaired by Mohamed Shaheen as the first president.” Mohamed  added.

Who could forget Medhat Warda, the legendary player who was chosen by the African Basketball Confederation as the sixth best Basketball player in the world in 1982? Who could forget Amr Abu El Kheir, who was chosen as the best basketball player in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984? Along with Warda and Abu Al Kheir are other legendary Egyptian basketball players Tarek Al Sabagh, Ibrahim Mekawy, Emad Mahmoud (Al Rayek), Emam Abdel Badee (Mesho), Mohamed Abdel -Motleb (Tolba); the list is endless.  

In fact, one cannot refer to the history of Ittihad Al Skandery without paying heed to the renowned feat made by the basketball team in the last decades. Ittihad Al Skandery team is considered to be the powerhouse of the basketball in Egypt. Such a basketball legacy was demonstrated to be the best in the Arab and the African region. Ittihad won more than 34 titles: 13 Egypt National league titles, 15 Egypt Cup titles, five Arab League titles and one African Cup title.

“That was one of the main reasons behind hosting an international friendly basketball championship from 21 June to 28 June this year,” added Alaa who is also a member in the Ittihad centennial committee.  “The centennial festival is not confined to Sporting Lisbon football match held on 4 August. Quite the contrary, we started the celebration early this year when we launched the club official website on 1 April.  In addition, we held an international basketball championship in which we made a friendly tournament between the basketball teams of Angola, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt’s national Team, Kuwait and UAE.”

“Still we will do more and will prove further that we are capable of hosting major clubs, organising international tournaments and engraving the Ittihad name in the hearts and the minds of all Egyptians. Stay tuned, for we have still more events that will be displayed till the end of the year.” Alaa added.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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