Saturday, January 24, 2009

Morocco Janury 2009

Take me to the Kasbah (or a game)

The first flight out of Luton is to Marrakech at 6am. So it meant a very early start for this traveller.

It was surely too good to be true to see a top level game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Morocco.

And so it proved , despite various websites indicating games on consecutive days at Safi, Agadir and Marrakech the reality was somewhat different.

With a late shuffle the fixtures were changed and all three of those matches were now on the same day, at the same time.
So my trip to the coastal city of Safi , three hours on the bus, was not to include a game after all.

My plans rescheduled I returned to Marrakech for a Saturday game and a match in Khourigba on the Sunday.

Fes miss pen.

FAC Marrakech 0 MAS Fes 0

Played in the characteristically pink/red shaded Stade El Harti on an artifical pitch in the centre of Marrakech.

A reasonable group of away fans were in the attendance of 3500.
It was cool , dry and overcast.

The game started at a good pace with some half chances spurned.
Though Marrakech did most of the pressing it was Fes who had the best opportunity after 11 minutes when Benhenia was brought down. But Baqqali's penalty was saved.

Then the home coach was sent away from the dugout for persistent arguing - he was a hero to the home fans.

As the second half develops the pace is slower and Fes defend deeper. Despite the game getting stretched later on there is no breakthrough.

Meanwhile in the centre of the city the horse and carts , donkeys and sundry mopeds mix in the streets.

Some negotiate the narrow streets of the Medina whilst in the main square the snake charmers and fortune tellers (maybe I should have asked them about the fixtures ?) draw the crowds.

Wydad strike in the Phosphates.

Khourigba 0 Wydad Casablanca 1

Khourigba is a mining town some 250 km or so from Marrakech.

My trip began and ended in Marrakech but with a story in-between.

Given that there was no bus until around midday - how do you get there in time to see the 3pm game and get back.

My decision was to negotiate with a 'grand taxi' driver for him to take me to Khourigba , wait and then bring me back after the match.

100 euros was the deal.

He would use the bosses' (better) car.

Firstly he had to get written police permission to drive outside of his regulated limit - that took around 20 minutes.

Then we changed cars (and water caps) whilst i had a look at the tyres (ok)

We set off and proceeded to go around in circles for about an hour as the police had closed all the relevant city exits due to the Marrakech marathon (i'd seen some of the runners starting off earlier)
I saw some nice and some not so nice areas of Marrakech.

We stopped two or three times to ask and it was evident that many others had the same problem.

Eventually it took an off-road manouevre and some aggressive driving to get through to the Fes road.
It was now after 11 am.

An hour or so up the road we stopped for a mint tea for me and a meal for the driver.

By now my emotions started to go from pessimism that we'll never make it then to optimism -maybe we will get there by kick off .

This went on for the next 3 hours.

Though the driver knew of Khourigba he'd probably never been there so my map, purchased earlier, was to prove useful.

But my decisions about the route lacked local knowledge and what might seem to be a reasonable road on the map (and in Europe) does not necessarily apply in Morocco , especially as it was raining.

So the driver checked with a local as we reached one town and following a slight diversion we got back on the best route.
Meanwhile I scanned the petrol gauge which seemed kind of low - this I mentioned but our man was confident we would be OK.

Sensing my concern about the time (he didn't have a watch) he pressed on and then gets stopped for speeding resulting in a 40 dirham (about £3.50) fine and further delay.

Up the road at the last town before Khourigba I say we won't make it - he says we will and asks a local policeman how far we have to go, answer 40 km.
It is now 2.25pm.

Fortunately it is a straight road and we must be going at 80 mph (though as the speedo doesn't work it is hard to be accurate)

We arrive in Khourigba and ask someone for the location of the ground - not too far.

A short drive , a short jog and I'm there 5 minutes before kick off.

Just time enough to take a few pictures and absorb the scene in the Phosphates stadium (guess what Khourigba produces)
The main group of home fans were opposite whilst the couple of thousand Wydad fans were squeezed into a small terrace curving behind the goal and in another section next to the main stand.

This felt like a typical game between a small club and much larger and more famous visitor.

Though actually Khourigba were higher placed in the league - not that it seemed like it on the balance of play. The red shirted Wydad team played more aggresively and were certainly well supported by their noisy fans.
The game was played at medium pace on a difficult pitch.

The result was determined, in added time at the end of the first half, by a controversial decision to award a goal as Doulyazal's chip was adjudged to have crossed the line.

Khourigba mostly struggled to create much apart from a few set peices and Wydad should have wrapped it up with a 2nd goal.
But one was enough.

I left, walking past various fans waiting outside and found my grand taxi for the return trip to Marrakech.
Which was not quite as fraught as the outward journey.
However I was glad not to be driving as most of the trip was in the dark and it needed keen eyesight to spot the odd horse & cart, cyclist or pedestrian along the unlit roads.
Again we stopped at a town familiar to the driver - tea for me and a break for him.

On the way out of town he noticed a gendarme this time not catching us for speeding but hitching a lift. After a discussion (and my agreement) the policeman and a colleague squeezed into the front seats.
It gave the driver someone to talk to (in Arabic) for the last hour or so and no doubt a friendly gendarme is a useful contact for any taxi driver.
It didn't stop him speeding, driving without a seatbelt or talking on his mobile whilst motoring along.

But live and let live.

more pics at

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