Football match gives Aleppo a break from war

One of Syria's top football clubs Al-Ittihad competed against Al-Hurriya in a match that provided temporary relief to the battered city.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Prior to the conflict, Syrian football was blossoming and the national team qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.

Syrians gathered at an Aleppo stadium to watch a live football match on Saturday, the first in nearly six years of war.

The Al-Ittihad club beat Al-Hurriya 2-1 in their first match after war divided the northern city into regime-held west and rebel-controlled east. Al-Ittihad is one of the most successful clubs in Syria. Both the teams are based in Aleppo.

The regime retook the battered city in December last year after a month-long offensive on the rebel-held areas by regime forces that left thousands of people in the firing line and triggered a humanitarian crisis.

The battle between the regime and rebels for the control of Aleppo lasted nearly four and a half years until an agreement under which the rebels withdrew from the city.

Aleppo's Al-Ittihad Soccer Club has previously won six Syrian football league titles. (AFP)

Since 2012, the two teams from Aleppo had only ever played games in other parts of Syria. Previous games in this season for both teams were held in the regime coastal stronghold of Latakia.

More than 200 football players have left the country with most of them going to Iraq, Syrian football expert Mohammed Nasser said.

But some players stayed to join the fight against the regime. Musab Balhous, an international player from Syria was imprisoned after he was accused of sheltering rebels as well as participating in an armed organisation along with other football players from his team Al-Karamah Sports Club.

Al-Hurriya Sports Club, based in Aleppo was founded in 1952. (AFP)

League football in Syria continued despite the war. The 2012 to 2013 season was played in Damascus for security reasons but many teams had to withdraw due to lack of funds.

"I can't tell you how it feels to return to the pitch (in Aleppo) after five years," said Ittihad player Omar Hamidi before the game.

"My heart's beating so fast." 

"The last match I went to was in 2010," said fan Mohammed Ali.

"Of course there were a lot more of us then. I was with my friends."

Some fans attended the match despite the difficult times the country is going through. (AFP)

A steady stream of fans from both sides also attended the match.

"The last match I went to was in 2010," said fan Mohammed Ali.

"Of course there were a lot more of us then. I was with my friends."

The Aleppo stadium has suffered a lot of damage since the war started in 2011. (AFP)

More than 310,000 people have been killed and millions have fled their homes in the Syrian conflict since it erupted with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


TRTWorld and agencies