MATHEW WAGNER - Thursday, March 8, 2012
Samir Badr signed with Egyptian club Haras El Hodood on January 23 for one reason only: to gain some experience.
Badr spent his first two years as a professional in Portugal with FC Porto, unable to break out of the reserve team. The move to the Egyptian leaders was supposed to help the 19-year-old goalkeeper continue to grow, and he was set to get his first start in net in Haras El Hodood's next match.
"I was very excited, I had worked so hard and was waiting for that first game," he said. "We finalized the contract two days after our last game. Our next game was going to be for me to start and everything happened right after that."
That match still has not come.
Less than a week and a half after signing the contract, the former United States Under-20 goalkeeper found himself in a situation he could not have imagined.
On February 1, in the northeastern city of Port Said, fans of El Masry stormed the field after a 3-1 upset victory over Al Ahly and began attacking the away team's fans with clubs, knives and other weapons.
In the incident, 73 people died and about a thousand people were injured.
Watching the match on television, Badr said he could not believe what he saw.
"I was actually at the hotel where all the players were staying," Badr said. "I couldn't believe that something like that could happen. I couldn't really grasp (the situation) because I couldn't imagine something like that would happen in the (National Football League)."
The next morning, Badr, along with his teammates in Alexandria, was flown via military helicopter to Cairo, after a mob of thousands descended on the hotel.
Badr said that his club is "the army team," having links with the Egyptian military. Many of the protestors believed the country's military rulers allowed the incident in Port Said to occur or did little or nothing to stop it, prompting the mob to go after the team.
"I knew what was going on, and I knew that soccer players there are usually protected," Badr said. "I knew that games were crazy and fans were crazy there, but I never knew that it would go to that degree- never, ever cross that line with people dying."
Badr pointed to politics as the reason behind the attack.
The club president and the club supporter groups called "ultras" for Al Ahly were active during the Egyptian Revolution, and Badr said that their political leanings may not have been favored by some people.
He also said the people who disagreed with Al Ahly's stance saw this opportunity to show their displeasure.
"They basically took politics- and the way to catch people's attention was through soccer," Badr said. "That's where they could really not only get the people in their country but get the people's eyes all over the world.
"It was very sad that they had to do it through soccer, but it just shows how big their soccer is."
The strategy worked, but it affected more than just a game or a group of supporters.
The Egyptian government dissolved the Egyptian Football Association on February 2nd and suspended the Premier League indefinitely. Interim chairmen Anwar Saleh was quoted a few weeks later saying the season was unlikely to continue.
Players were also affected by the incident. Badr said that 90-95 percent of the Al Ahly team retired after the incident.
He also said that he talked to the captain of Al Ahly, Hossam Ghaly, about his experience after the match. Badr said that Ghaly attempted to hear the dying words of two people, trying to get them to recite an Islam saying that one says before dying.
"(Ghaly) was saying that he was trying to get these two people to basically say their last words- you know, to say something to your family," Badr said. "He was trying to get these people's last words, as they passed away in his hands.
"I can tell you that 90-95 percent of the team has already retired. A lot of them said, ‘I can't touch this soccer ball after what I just saw happen.'"
Now, the players and the country are trying to pick up the pieces.
"I know a lot of guys are putting together a movement- to be a part of a movement to help to make things better," he said. "For them, they're trying to move forward and of course to make things better. It's nice to be a part of that, and it's nice to be a part of- to help get Egypt back on its feet and to focus back on their season. That part of it is exciting for me."
For Badr, it is an interesting situation, considering he is a foreigner, but he is not the only American in the country.
In September, Bob Bradley signed on to be Egypt's national team coach. Despite having coached in only one match, Bradley marched with other Egyptians the day after the incident and has shown support for the people.
Badr said he thinks Bradley's efforts have been the correct ones.
"(Bradley)'s definitely showed how Americans are," Badr said. "We're very diverse, and we always like to bring a lot to the table and help. I think it showed that Bob Bradley's helped the country a lot- probably more than I will.
"I think that him standing with them and doing what he's doing is definitely doing the right thing."
Badr himself said he is looking to help. Despite the fact that his parents lived in Egypt a majority of their lives after emigrating from Palestine, Badr said he is seen as an outsider.
But he feels that he brings something to offer.
"As Americans, I think that we have a lot of good mentality and a lot of good thought-processing, a lot of big hopes and dreams that I think would be what this country needs," Badr said. "I think I'm able to bring a lot to the table."
Despite the incident in Port Said and the lack of playing time, Badr said he still expects to learn and grow as a player.
"I think I find myself in a lot more now than I expected to be in, which is good to experience- to not only see football but to grow as a person and see what football really is about," Badr said. "It's not just a game or sport, especially abroad. To be amidst of all that, it's sad, it's exciting, it's a feeling of mixed emotions."