“Allah, Al-Wehdat, Al-Quds Arabiyeh”.
These three words were filling the air over and over again at the renovated Faisal Husseini Stadium in Al-Ram, near Jerusalem. The small village-town, who regularly offers crime, drugs and weapons, suddenly turned in to a football scene. Kids were dressed in green, white, red & black, women took selfies, and a crowd of around 11,000 people gathered in the terraces.
It didn’t happen just like that. It happened because Al-Wehdat, the Jordanian champions and the most prominent Palestinian symbol in Jordan, has arrived in town for a first ever official football match. An AFC Cup clash against the Palestinian champions, Hilal Al-Quds.
The 2019 AFC Cup group A has gathered four Levantine teams together. Al-Wehdat, Hilal Al-Quds, Al-Jaish from Syria & Nejmeh from Lebanon. As both the Syrian & Lebanese teams refused to come to play in Al-Ram as they consider a visit to the Palestinian Territories as an act of ‘normalization’ with Israel, Al-Wehdat is the only team to play in Al-Ram during this campaign.
Founded in 1956 by Palestinian refugees from a camp in the western part of Amman under the same name, Al-Wehdat is probably the second or third most popular team in Palestine. Real Madrid is first, and then the Palestinian national team & Al-Wehdat, maybe even not in that order. Therefore, the presence of Al-Wehdat fans in the stadium was impressive with only a few of them making the trip from Jordan, but thousands from all over the West Bank, mainly Hebron, who came to support the team against their Jerusalem rivals - Hilal.
Hilal Al-Quds, who won the Palestinian League in the past two seasons, is on the rise. With a young and promising team, a growing fanbase in East Jerusalem and beyond, according to many the club was seemed to be as a potential ‘black horse’ of Group A., But it wasn’t the case this time.
Hilal was missing its first pick goalie Rami Hamadeh, and with Khaled Azzam, the defense looked shaky and not confident at all. The Jordanians enjoyed this lack of confidence in the first goal as Azzam simply let one ball pass him as he thought it was going out, but it went in.
Hanni Abdallah equalized the score beautifully for Hilal with a shot from outside the box. The game was played quite openly from both teams, but very quickly it was clear which side will benefit from it the most.
In five minutes between the 36th and 41st minutes, Baha Faisal scored a magnificent hat-trick, including one Dennis Bergkamp-esque goal above Hilal’s centre back, Khalil Freg.
4-1 to Al-Wehdat at halftime.
The result didn’t interrupt both sets of fans to sing together the words at the beginning of this column, as well as “Sha’ab Wahad Mu Sha’aben” (One people, not two), as the sense of familiarity was present.
In the second half, Saleh Rateb nailed a goal for the Wehdatys and made it 5-1, performed the sujood in front of the Jerusalemite crowd. It was a demolition of the home side.
The end? Guess again. Red hot Baha Faisal nailed another goal, as he completed his super hat-trick and the scoreboard showed in significant green figures: 6-1 to the visitors and Al-Wehdat supporters were celebrating.
Hilal won a penalty one minute to the final whistle, which the local wonder kid Oday Dabagh converted and concluded the match. 6-2 to Al-Wehdat in the end.
“I made the way from Irbid [Jordan], to watch my team in this historical match”, said Mustafa, a Wehdat’s fan to BabaGol. “Of course I am happy, but I am also sad for Hilal Al-Quds, and the home fans who were simply tremendous hosts for us”, he concluded.
Regardless of the final result, this match was an essential step for Palestinian football, which is continuing in its slow, none-coherent and unusual development. As a scene that takes place in the reality of the West Bank, a match in a continental standard as this one was indeed one of the major highlights for Palestinian football in recent years.
The fact that an Arab team arrived to play in front of a Palestinian crowd, was the bottom line, and not just an Arab squad - the most famous Arab team in Palestine, was only the bonus.