Footballization, football stories and refugees in Lebanon

This article is also available in: Italiano

We are proud to present our interview with Stefano Fogliata, writer of the documentary “Footballization”, in which the stories behind the Lebanese refugee camps are told. Among legendary players and everyday stories, the film is a very precious document on realities full of hidden treasures.

K: Where did the idea of Footbalization come from?

S: The idea was born from a chat I had with the two directors Francesco Furiassi and Francesco Agostini, who had already dedicated themselves to similar projects in the past. The project immediately convinced them and at that point we finally met live. I had already lived in Lebanon for 2 years and, once the directors also arrived, we immediately started organizing the film. Initially it was supposed to be a short film, but then we decided to turn it into a documentary to better tell these stories.

K: How has the life and football of refugee camps changed in recent years?

S: The refugee camps until 2011 were inhabited substantially by the Palestinians, from 2012 to 2015, however, the population doubled due to the massive arrival of Syrians fleeing the war. This is also very visible in our documentary, in which the 4 protagonists fully embody some of the stories that populate these places.

Louay, the No. 10 protagonist of Footballization

The first is a Palestinian who grew up in Lebanon, who managed to turn the field, the second is a Palestinian refugee who came from Syria, No. 10 of the team, tried to get to Europe but was blocked in Istanbul. The other 2 are two childhood companions of No. 10 who also grew up in the refugee leader of Yarmouk in Syria.

K: Who is Jamal Al Khatib?

S: Jamal Al Khatib is the only footballer in history to have played for 3 different nationals: Palestine, Lebanon and Qatar. Raised in a refugee camp, at 16 he will be purchased by Nejmeh, the historic Lebanese team of which he will become an absolute star. Precisely for this reason in “73 he will be given a passport to play with the local national team, valid only for travel. In” 75, 2 weeks before the Civil War broke out, he will even play with Pele in a friendly staged in Beirut. Shortly thereafter he will be offered the opportunity to go to Qatar, where he will be naturalized immediately and where he will play 2 years before returning to Nejmeh.

Stefano Fogliata with the legendary Jamal Al Khatib

In “82, after Sabra and Shatila, the Nejmeh stadium will become an Israeli base and will be brought there by Zionist soldiers. Once inside, however, all the people began to clap their hands, enough to induce the military to believe he was a politician , to the question he replied that “he had not left but his people were around him”.

K: In the plot of the film you refer to a “parallel” Palestinian championship, can you explain more?

S: It depends on the difference in regulation Syria and Lebanon: in the first country Palestinians and locals were almost equal, while in the second only one can be deployed per formation. Even today many professions are barred from this people and football often becomes the only outlet and source of redemption.

Pele with the Nejmeh shirt

“Parallel football” was born in the 70s, when several Palestinian entrepreneurs began to invest more and more in their compatriots, incredibly increasing their level. In those years this championship will become the richest in the country, prompting several indigenous champions to prefer the refugee championship to the official one. With the end of the Civil War, things changed but in 2016 a branch was created for the Palestinians here in Lebanon.

K: In the film “The Insult” by Ziad Doueri it is shown how much the wounds of the Lebanese Civil War are still present in the inhabitants. Besides the limitations on numbers, how much are these scars still perceptible in football?

S: In reality, in our documentary Lebanese football is the co-star and therefore follows, a bit like a shadow, the events of the Palestinian championship in this sort of role reversal. In reality, sectarianization in Lebanon is still perceived today but not so much by the people who live there as much by those who write about it. In our documentary we have instead taken the example of how football has its own unique dignity, with rivalries that very often go beyond and contradict these divisions.

Ahed fans to win the title

The most striking case is that related to the Nejmeh fans, a team that is always perceived as the team cheered by all the Lebanese. The question, however, becomes very interesting in the derby with Al Ahed, a team that is instead perceived as a direct emanation of Hezbollah. If you think that the Nejmeh fans come mainly from the South and are Shiites, the fact of cheering on that club seems something impossible thinking about the classic divisions we are used to. In reality the speech that most people make is “first the shirt and then the rest”, which in reality is not very far from the Italian one.

K: How did you first come into contact with Footballization realities? What relationship do the Lebanese have with Italian football?

S: It is told at the beginning by my teammates, there was the idea of not only being an “Italian in Lebanon” view, but something that could tell 360 ° about this reality, also, and above all, by eyes of the protagonists. So let’s say that’s why I invite you to watch the movie. In my opinion, the interesting thing is how everything was born, or by chance, from chance encounters that in 3 years have allowed me to distance myself more and more from the unofficial reality with which the facts are often told.

K: When and where will it be possible to watch the film?

S: We can anticipate that from this autumn it will be shown in Italian cinemas thanks to a collaboration with Mescalito Film, so I am proud to say that “we are waiting for you in the best cinemas”.

Thanks a lot again Stefano Fogliata for allowing us this incredible and full of stories journey. An interview that we wish was never finished by the amount of stories that came out of it, we are really looking forward to September, if this was “an introduction” we can only wait for the “main course”. Find Footballization on Facebook and a special promo on YouTube.

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