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Fiction with Faustine: A Journey Into The World Of Moroccan Soccer: Part 3 - Washington Huskies

Fiction with Faustine: A Journey Into The World Of Moroccan Soccer: Part 3

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Junior Faustine Dufka of the women's soccer team recently wrote this fictional soccer story for one of her classes. She has decided to share her piece with Husky Nation by releasing two parts a week. Read part three below.

***

 

            My first task was to find out who Larbi Ben Barek was. If he had been mentioned in the European press, he must have been important at some point in time. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but then again, Moroccan names all sounded alike. My Uncle Ali was the one to ask. He claimed that he had read the newspaper every morning since he was twenty years old, and joked that he knew more about politics than King Hassan himself. Of course, that joke was never repeated outside the privacy of his home, because we all knew what could happen to Uncle Ali if the wrong person overheard.

            The next time we had a family gathering, while all of the women were busy cooking up a delicious meal, I managed to talk to him alone for a few minutes.

"Uncle Ali, have you heard of Larbi Ben Barek?"

"Ah, yes my child... The "Black Pearl" of Football... the "Foot of God" as the Spaniards called him. He was the first black man to play professional football overseas in Europe. His days of fame were in the 40s and 50s, when I was just a young man, like you. He was miraculous. Anyone who saw him play raved about his talent, his feints, his foot skills...He danced with the ball, it was beautiful to watch."

"What happened to him?" I asked a bit too suddenly, divulging my increasing curiosity.

"No one really knows..." My uncle took a long pause and sighed heavily, shaking his head.  "All of a sudden, we stopped reading about him in the sports section, it was as if he had vanished. I'm not sure if he stayed in Europe or ever returned to Morocco."

"Hmmm...." I responded automatically. My imagination was already grinding like a paste of roasted argan seeds, as various intrigue-filled scenarios unfolded in my mind.

"I might be able to dig up some old newspapers that mention him, if you'd like. You know I have a bad habit of keeping everything." We both laughed when he said this.

"That'd be great, thank you so much!" I flashed my teeth, a huge grin spreading across my face. I left my uncle's house with a heavy stack of newspapers digging into my arms. As excited as a young child on the verge of unwrapping a big present, I was impatient to start flipping through the frayed, yellowed pages I held in my hands.

 

***

 

Tarik momentarily toyed with the idea that had caught him by surprise, despite his intuition to repress the thought. He only had a few seconds to make up his mind. His hand shot into the air before he had the time to make a sensible decision, as if his limbs were operating separately from his brain.

"What about my little brother, Karim? He's only one year younger than me. He's pretty good, coach..." His heart was beating rapidly. What had he gotten himself into?

 

***

 

The newspaper clippings my Uncle Ali gave me were incredibly useful. Scanning the headlines, I was able to trace the path Ben Barek had taken in his professional career, from his debut at the Olympique de Marseille in 1938, to his return to the Union Sportive Marocaine of Casablanca during the war, all the way though his last international match for France in 1954:

 

"Ben Barek scores two in first official match at Olympique de Marseille" (24 November 1938)

 "Ben Barek late goal sends OM to French Championship" (13 May 1939)

"3 from Ben Barek spurs France win against Poland" (23 January 1939)

"Ben Barek eyes more titles with USM" (14 May 1941)

"Ben Barek leads USM to crown of North African Cup" (6 July 1942)

"Ben Barek late goal earns Paris the win" (2 November 1947)

"France downs Portugal, Ben Barek scores two" (24 November 1947)

"France blanks Czechoslovakia, Ben Barek man of the match" (13 June 1948)

"Ben Barek to Atletico de Madrid for 8 million" (24 July 1948)

"The Foot of God leads Madrid to Spanish title" (12 June 1950)

"Ben Barek key to success, Madrid cruises to second consecutive title" (10 June 1951)

"Son of OM President convinces Ben Barek to return to Marseille" (17 December 1953)

"The Black Pearl keen on French title, leads OM to another championship" (24 May 1954)

"Public protest follows Ben Barek's dismissal from France squad" (28 August 1954)

"Ben Barek returns to France team by popular verdict" (10 September 1954)

"Leg injury forces Ben Barek to withdraw from France squad" (18 October 1954)

"The Black Pearl retired French jersey" (June 4 1955)

"Ben Barek coaches Morocco to gold medal in Beirut Pan-Arabic games" (28 October 1957)

 

Several things caught my attention as I read the articles. The press had been very quick to point out that Ben Barek did not have French nationality or citizenship. They had also been extremely critical of his play, despite the success he had brought to all the teams he had played for, resulting in Ben Barek's dismissal from the French national team. I was stunned by the influence the press had in such matters. However, I learned that Ben Barek had been recalled to the French squad by popular demand, revealing the deep chasm between the opinion of the general public and that of the political actors on the European football stage. The recurring trend I picked up on in the news clippings was that regardless of how talented he was, Ben Barek had always been blamed for his origins and for the color of his skin, a consequence of the racism and colonial mindset inherent to any type of international relations, even a mere game of football.

            I sensed that a big piece of the puzzle was still missing. The events I had uncovered thus far could not possibly explain why Monsieur Larbi had killed himself. And who was this Hassan to whom he had written his farewell letter?

 

***

 

 "Anyone will do," Ahmed responded morosely, handing him an extra uniform.

Ahmed cared deeply for his players. He had grown up in similar circumstances and understood that the moments playing football represented a temporary escape from the hardships they faced on a daily basis.

***

 

           

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