It’s 7.30 in the evening when we arrive at the small café. It’s a place that would comfortably house around 40 people if all the tables were removed. It is an hour and a half before kick-off, and already it is becoming packed. I have two friends with me. We struggle to find three empty chairs that are not claimed for ‘friends on their way here’. With help from the waiter and a few customers, chairs are passed over peoples’ head to us, and we take our place amongst the thick of it.
There is a constant flow of men arriving, with more and more plastic chairs appearing from nowhere and finding a home on drops of remaining floor space. By the time nine pm arrives, the small café is stuffed with around 100 males aged between twelve and my friend Colin, who is fifty-nine.
A waiter stands on duty by the glass entrance to stop more spectators from getting in. There are five cafes along the street and, according to Colin, everyone will be packed as much as ours. The waiter seems to know who the friends with reserved seats are and who are just chancing their luck here and all the other cafes in the hope of gaining entry. He turns away two young teenagers. They walk the few meters further along the café front, open the large windows and climb in with the help of some of the customers already seated. The waiter sees them, but is not bothered.
Football is a great passion here in Marrakech. Spanish football holds a greater passion, with the greatest passion of all held for matches between tonight’s teams: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona; although, I notice, no one is wearing football tops or scarves.
Our chairs are lined in warped rows all facing one of two living-room size TVs hung in the corner. The commentary is in rapid Arabic. I understand only two words ‘Madrid’ and ‘Barcelona’ Most of the café crowd support Barcelona, but a few Madrid fans (myself and my friend Fabio included) are scattered amongst the good natured crowd.
It’s a chilly night outdoors, but the body count in the room raises the temperature. With the door locked and the window guarded by the now squashed ‘window crew’ there is no regard for fire risk assessments or health and safety requirements; The match begins.
Occasionally, the TV picture freezes and the café owner has to unscramble the illegally received satellite feed from Spain. Once, this happens at a crucial moment in the match. It’s the only time a groan goes out from the café crowd. On the five or six other occasions, we all sit for the 30 seconds or so that it takes for the café owner to do his stuff. I am surprised to see Terry Venables, an English league club football manager, appear on screen; his words are dubbed into Arabic, no doubt from the Spanish dub of the original English.
The cafe has more testosterone than a herd bull elephants out on the pull, so it’s rather amusing to see these big, strong men quaff litres of fruity peach or avocado milkshakes; their meaty fists wrapped around the dainty handles of the glass jugs. There being no room given for alcohol in this Muslim café. The avocado milkshakes are too tempting for us to resist, so we go with what the real men drink around these parts.
The crowd applaud good play from both sides, although there is little of that in evidence from the Madrid team tonight. When Barcelona scores, the place erupts. People suddenly stand and scream in joy. I remain seated, revealing where my loyalties lie.
When the crowd take their seats again, one young lad near the front remains standing. He starts off the chant, conducting the rest of the café with the wave of his arms.
At 11pm, the doors are opened and the people spill out. I look along the street and see the other cafes close-by belching out the same high number of men. It looks likes we have all come out of a football stadium. People wrap up against the sudden drop in temperature. We three do the same.
One old man stops by us and starts listing English football clubs. We can tell he thinks he is having a conversation with us. We just start listing English teams as well, and he is happy. Other Moroccans around us, start grinning in amusement at the old man. Eventually, he runs out of club names and he moves on. He is happy as the rest of us are, Madrid and Barcelona fans, alike.