Written By Haisam Elkewidy
The stakes had never been higher.
For the first time in centuries, thousands and thousands of supporters filled the benches of Cairo Stadium. All three decks had been occupied to the brim, and tens of others even stood on the ceiling rails and light posts to observe me. I stood in front of a small barricade of four players from the opposing team, with a right foot’s outsoles trying to pinch into the football’s rubber. I remember pressing it, trying not to make the ball move before the opposing team could pounce on me.
One hundred and nineteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds had been played so far. Time froze in place as I prepared for this decisive free kick. The score was one goal to one, and both squads played to the death in the metaphorical sense. We couldn’t kill each other on the pitch, but the consequences of defeat this time around were far worse than death – far, far worse.
I tried to distract myself by staring into the VIP section, watching our government officials stare with deathly gazes at me. I knew their time was coming to an end, as this free kick would decide their fate regardless. But the greater question at hand was who would end it for them? If this missed, they won. If I scored, then we won.
I eyed the goal posts and the keeper, who had spread out his feet and awaited me to make my move. The miniature barricade of four people looked at me with even more fearful eyes, seeming to notice a hidden potential within me. I didn’t feel any confident about this free kick myself, but making the score made all the difference.
The referee blew the whistle.
To distract myself for only a few seconds, I stared back at the same government officials. Though I could only see specks of their presence, I could feel their apprehensions. They knew they didn’t do a good job with this country, and wished they could pounce onto the green grass and take my place. But I wouldn’t let them, and I also knew the enemy team first hand. They were accomplices with the incompetent regime.
It was only by sheer luck that the Egyptian Football Administration decided to make this change, and somehow, the public approved of it. Transitions would be very rapid at the risk of one group of people ruling for a long period of time. The diehard football fanatics loved the concept, and so did I, as the risks seemed to be minimal. But in a game like football, victories aren’t always as guaranteed as people think. At least not like before, when one team supposedly won the tournament four whopping times in a row.
I knew the referee was growing impatient, but my intention was to make the opposition nervous. Before I could be granted a time violation, I moved a few steps back into the open and made a sprint for the ball. Curving my right cleat, I struck the rubber ball at the proper position. It then soared upwards and forward, dashing towards the opposing barricade. It appeared to be ready to smack their heads, but the ball continuously spun around its axis and did the seemingly impossible…
The ball curved into an orbital arc, and curved around the barricade while hovering like a projectile. The ascent didn’t last long enough as the ball started to lose its energy and fall, but its arc-like movement progressed like no other. I monitored the ball’s course, and then paid attention to the goalkeeper. He leaped to the far right, correctly anticipating the ball’s direction, but the goalkeeper didn’t jump high enough. The ball barely touched his fingers and, with the blazing speed of a meteor, scraped off the metal of the top right post and crashed into the net.
A large display right behind the goal turned pitch-black, and displayed in superimposed text: GOOOOOOAL!!!
The crowds roared into the loudest cheering commotion I heard in a stadium. Centuries of silence, and empty stadium benches, were cleansed from the history of Egyptian football as my team’s crowds rose to standing ovations. Flares colored parts of the night sky red, and purple. Throngs of fans and supporters burst into dance and screamed their hearts out. And I was also elated, proceeding to take off my shirt and run to the goal I had just scored in. I ran around it and then jogged along the track to the other side of the field. Almost everyone in my team tried to catch me, but the adrenaline surging from my success made me outrun everyone else.
About half an hour later, the commotion all died.
The commotion had ended and the closing ceremony was commencing. I stood at the front lines awaiting my team to be granted the tournament cup. But the prize was no ordinary trophy with my name engraved on it. In fact, I wouldn’t be the only one bearing the glory I brought to my team. All twenty-two of us would get a piece of it, and share it together. The President handed each of us keys to the city and made us stand in front of him, swearing oaths to office.
I recited the words being repeated from my President, and then stared at the key he had just given me. I had been brought in as the new Minister of Justice for the Arab Republic Egypt. And the affirmation only meant one thing…
By winning the annual Egyptian Cup, I had replaced a corrupt member of the Egyptian Athletocracy.