Freestyle street football players gathered at the Wadi Degla Club on the outskirts of Maadi this Friday to participate in a competition that is the first of its kind here.
The event was sponsored by carbonated energy drink company Red Bull, a newcomer to the Egyptian market.
But what precisely is street “freestyling? Well, it is not football, a fact participants are quick to point out. The sport entails performing a variety of moves and tricks with a football. The ball can bounce from head to shoulders to knees. It may roll down from one arm, across the shoulders, to the other arm. Freestyle street football can be performed on one’s feet, arms, knees or back. There are no limits.
It’s all about creativity and controlling the ball in contorted, mind-boggling ways. One of the most difficult tricks involves balancing the ball between the shoulder blades while removing one’s shirt without the ball falling off. It was successfully performed just once.
Wearing t-shirts, athletic shorts and indoor football shoes, the participants jump, skip and hop their way around a circular, seven-meter white tarp. All the while the ball flies around the air at their command. It is as though there is an invisible string between the ball and eyes.
Three three judges rate the competitors in the categories of “technical skills, ball control and creativity to the music. Each match is three minutes long and consists of two players handling the ball for 20 seconds at a time before passing it to the other. There were a series of matches throughout the afternoon and plenty of casual kicking around in between.
A DJ was on hand, pumping out loud, bass-fueled music for the participants. The audience stood beneath tents that framed the playing area that was flanked by a Mini Cooper and Land Rover brandished with the Red Bull logo. Attendees were served chilled Red Bull.
Despite the ruggedness of the location, with its extreme heat and sand, the event was decidedly upscale but family-oriented. Parents were on the sidelines, filming their sons and providing them with water.
Three talented young men and a team from the Arsenal Soccer School competed against one another for the chance to compete in the national final at Porto Marina in July. The victor of this event will go on to Cape Town in March 2010.
The boys’ interest in the sport seems to be derived from playing around with friends. Only when they found flyers advertising the event did they realize there was a competitive outlet for their hobby. Each had his own style and disposition.
Bright-eyed competitor John Adel, 14, brought an infectious enthusiasm to the venue, interacting with the audience and fellow competitors with grace and charm.
With hair pulled back in a pony tail, Youssef Ayman, 19, sprung around the playing area, never standing still.
Abdalla Farouk Sayed Hussein, 19, was calm and composed for the entire event. The occasional smile escaped him, but he was cool and collected. The Cairo-native and student went on to win the competition.
The Arsenal team was barefoot and clad in blue jerseys and black shorts. The impromptu entrants eagerly jumped about and cheered one another on. They were the most fluent in their dancing ability, one player bouncing the ball from shoulder to shoulder to the rhythm of the music.
Contestants gathered for a photo together at the end. The mood was light-hearted and “competition may be wrong word to describe the event. Most seemed happy with the opportunity to play around for an afternoon with their peers.
Events such as this convert an informal activity done in alleys, yards or inside the family living rooms into something greater.
Freestyle street football competitions are being held all over the world by Red Bull. The event is important for Egypt, as it finds itself being drawn into the fold of alternative sports and corporate-sponsored events.
After the day was done, four competitors were selected to move on to the national finals. Abdalla Farouk Sayed Hussein led the pack, followed by John Adel Talaat, Mohamed Helal and Hossam Ayman Zaghloul Eid.
Qualifiers from Alexandria include Ahmed Magdy Mahmoud, Ramy Hosny Anwar, Ahmed Mahmoud Saleh Mahoud, Ahmed El Gendy, Mostafa Hisham Atalla, Amr Abdel Fadil Hassan and Yossry Mohamed Ibrahim.
Before the national final in July, the Red Bull Street Style competition is set to tour Egypt, with coming dates Ismailiya, Cairo once again and Al-Mahalla.