“Welcome to your second home”, read the enormous banner created by Moroccan fans for Real Madrid’s 2014 FIFA Club World Cup semi-final clash with Mexican outfit Cruz Azul, which ended in a comprehensive 4-0 victory for the reigning European champions.
The club enjoys great popularity in Morocco, as Al Tayeb Al Smeli, one of the founders of the Friends of Madrid supporters group, explains: “We’ve been working on the banner for two months. It was put together by a bunch of young Madrid fans. It’s going to be even bigger for the final.”
The display depicted Cristiano Ronaldo wearing the No10 jersey, a reference to Los Blancos’ tenth UEFA Champions League crown, secured earlier this year. Elsewhere, Marrakesh-based supporters who were unable to obtain a ticket for the match waited outside Real Madrid’s hotel in the cold, hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
Throughout the 90 minutes on Tuesday, the Moroccans in attendance chanted the names of each of the Madrid players, giving Carlo Ancelotti, Gareth Bale and Pepe the impression of playing at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. In a typical party-like atmosphere, female fans of Ronaldo held up signs asking the Portuguese forward to marry them.
The entire country has been gripped by Madrid fever; politicians, sporting personalities and artists all took time out to greet the Spanish giants, while journalists put down their laptops to have their photo taken with Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Bale, among others.
As far as Al Smeli is concerned, this behaviour is not at all surprising. “Morocco and Europe are only a few kilometres apart. People who live in the north are all fans of Madrid and all follow La Liga,” he said.
How did Al Smeli fall for the charms of *Los Merengues *himself? “I started to follow the club in 1971, when I was still at school and was starting to show some promise as a goalkeeper. Our football coach, a former Real Madrid basketball player, asked me what club I supported. Wydad Casablanca, I told him.
“Then he asked me what my favourite European team was. I told him I didn’t have one, and so he gave me a Real Madrid stapler as a gift. That’s how I became a supporter of the team.”
A group of children from a local orphanage, who generally split up into two factions – Madrid and Barcelona fans – every weekend, also had the opportunity to attend the semi-final on Tuesday. On this occasion, however, they all wore white, in what was the fourth match on Moroccan soil for the illustrious Spanish club.
It was the Casablanca branch of Friends of Real Madrid and its secretary, Abderrazak Allam, that paved the way for the children to go to the match. “As well as being a prestigious club, Real Madrid is first and foremost one big family, with whom we have several partnerships. As loyal supporters, it’s important for us that everyone has the chance to see them.
“Two years ago, a group of orphaned children visited the Santiago Bernabeu and took in one of the team’s training sessions. And now, they’re able to watch them from the stands, right here in Morocco,” he said.
Allam has lived through the glorious, all-conquering eras of Paco Gento, Emilio Butragueno, Pirri, Jose Antonio Camacho, Brazilian legend Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, but despite that he still regards the Club World Cup as an extremely important piece of silverware. “I really hope Madrid can win and make history,” he remarked.
Prior to becoming a fan of the football side, Allam played volleyball for Real Madrid, winning two league championships and lifting the Copa del Rey twice, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the European Cup. He was the first African and first Arab to pull on the volleyball team’s jersey.
Allam believes that the Spaniards’ visit will seal their place in Moroccan supporters’ hearts once and for all. “The fact that they’re here is extraordinary. We welcomed them like kings and we’ll celebrate them like heroes. This proves that they’re the most popular club in this country. Watching them at the Grand Stade in Marrakesh is going to be an amazing experience.”
Morocco’s Real Madrid fans will again congregate on Saturday, therefore, where they will hope to witness the La Liga heavyweights claim the 2014 Club World Cup and hold aloft their 80th major trophy in the process.