Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Algerian Community Fighting Islamophobia With Football

Posted on 20 October 2020 by Amine Sennoun
The Algerian team celebrating with fans. Photo by Maryam Albadry

An Algerian community in North London has inspired Muslims around the world by using football to not only raise money for charity but help combat Islamophobia. Algerian YouTuber Youcef, 24, is a player in and one of the organisers of the football charity events played at the New River Stadium in Wood Green.

The first game kicked off in June 2018, where Algerian youths entertained Morocco in front of a crowd of 200 spectators. Since then it has grown in reputation, attracting crowds of over 700 people. After the first game’s success, the event was shared on social media by fans and players, attracting more international communities around London such as Somalians, Yemenis, and Egyptians to participate.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, has passionately supported the events and the positive message they are portraying. “We cannot afford to underestimate the value of sport in uniting our diverse communities against racial discrimination. To see people in Tottenham coming together to fight Islamophobia is one of the many reasons why I’m so proud to represent this community.”

Youcef against Morocco at New River Stadium, Wood Green. Photo by Maryam Albadry

In response to how a group of friends could attract a huge following, Youcef stated, “During the first game it was easy, however as interest and exposure grew, the rest of the matches organised needed that extra help. A lot of work was put in behind the scenes. So, what you see on social media is only 10 or 15% of the work that gets done.

“There’s a lot of amazing North African women who have done so much behind the scenes that no-one will know of because they don’t want to be in the public eye. You only see videos of the game, the publicity, and everyone having a good time.”

Only one Muslim footballer played during the Premier League’s inaugural season in 1992. With the gradual internationalisation of football over the last couple of decades, that number has gone up to just over 40. The league at the moment boasts a huge number of Muslim and ethnic minority players, however issues regarding racism, Muslim scrutiny, and Islamophobia in the media have been ever present.

However, there have been some improvements in recent years. Research conducted by Stanford University in 2019 indicated that Mohammad Salah alone had contributed to a decrease in Islamophobic hate crimes on Merseyside of almost 20%, not only due to the Egyptian’s stellar performances for the club but also his open and unapologetic portrayal of his faith. The match organisers have succeeded in replicating a similar effect from these football matches.

Youcef taking part in the Boston charity match

M&M Youth, a Muslim community center in Revere, a few miles from Boston, Massachusetts, was inspired by the charity matches in the UK and invited Youcef to take part in their first charity football game in May of last year, where thousands of dollars were raised for the people of Yemen.

Youcef felt extremely grateful, explaining that,“For me, the best compliment I can receive is people coming up to me saying,“because of you we managed to organise our own game and raised money to help others. As a YouTuber representing North Africa, this is everything that I would have wanted and more. I was honoured.”

The mayor of Revere Brian Arrigo, commented on the game on a Facebook post: “It’s always a proud moment when our community comes together for events like this.” In a comment made to the Sports Gazette, he concluded that “last year’s game was just one of several opportunities for Revere residents to come together in a celebration of physical wellness and multicultural camaraderie. Our Muslim neighbours are an integral part of our city’s economy, school system and public life.”

Youcef added, “After the game, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, we’ve done this in London and now in America, imagine the level we can take it to.’

Mayor Brian Arrigo (center) attending the community charity match
Mayor Brian Arrigo (center) attending the community charity match

“There is a lot of scrutiny of Muslims in the media which extends to the sport as well. I asked myself what is the real reason why I’m doing this, what is the reason for me having a social media platform. It is all about getting positive exposure. Even if someone can’t give to charity, they will be able to read about us and what we have done.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, charity events have ground to a halt. Questioned in regards to the future of  these community games, Youcef said, “For me, I think I am done with it now. It requires so much patience and hard work, but it was worth it. I believe at the start of any project there is a certain hype. We have done these sort of matches quite a few times now and naturally, the hype does die down.

“It was a beautiful thing seeing everyone supporting this project. I felt extremely fulfilled. I remember when I started my first YouTube video, there was no North African community to speak of.”

Community sport events should be seen as a golden opportunity to integrate people from all walks of life, and Youcef’s work embodies that. “With the right funding and support, we know that anyone can do it. A lot of positivity comes from sports in general. It’s what connects people – it’s an amazing thing.”