Al Kadri: New life, old passion
In 2006 Hamdi Al Kadri experienced one of the best moments of his life by officiating at the FIFA World Cup™ in Germany. Now, ten years later, the Syrian has returned to the land of the current world champions. While war forced him to leave the nation of his birth, refereeing is helping the 51-year-old to find his feet in his new home.
"It’s wonderful to be able to referee here," the match official told FIFA.com. Al Kadri now lives with his wife and four children near Nuremberg, where the family have been receiving help with integration from local resident Gudrun Baars ever since their arrival.
It was Baars who contacted the local football association to inform them that a former world-class referee was now living in their midst – and club officials at SV Postbauer jumped at the chance of enlisting Al Kadri’s help. "First, we had to find out if he needed a new licence," Oliver Johannes, chairman of the district referee’s association, told FIFA.com.
"Luckily, the BFV ensured that everything went through smoothly and without any unnecessary red tape,” the 41-year-old continued. “We were able to get him going very quickly and he is now working at matches.” Johannes has high hopes for his new recruit. "None of our referees have the kind of experience he has. He can definitely help us to introduce young people to the role."
Returning to normality Al Kadri’s wife and two eldest children, Leen and Ali, arrived in Germany in September 2015 before seeking permission to reunite their family there. Once this approval was obtained, Hamdi and his two youngest children, Israa and Hala, came to join them in August this year.
The family soon had another reason to celebrate, as the head of the household took charge of the match between DJK SV Pilsach and DJK SV Oberwiesenacker on 22 October, just nine weeks after his arrival in Bavaria. Officiating in Germany’s third-lowest division did nothing to lessen the significance of the moment for Al Kadri.
"I really enjoy refereeing, and it’s another step towards a normal life," he explained, the delight evident in his voice. "None of this would have been possible without the fantastic help of the people I’ve met here, and I’m extremely grateful to them for that."
Meeting Beckenbauer Al Kadri has been officiating the beautiful game for more than 30 years. "Before that I played myself, but I had to give it up through injury at the age of 20,” he said. “After that, I considered becoming either a coach or a referee. When watching matches on television as a youngster, I always found myself watching the ref rather than the players."
After realising that this was the right career path for him, the Syrian stepped into a role that has since allowed him to travel all over the world. "I’ve officiated at tournaments including the U-17 World Cup 2001 in Trinidad and Tobago, the Club World Cup 2006 in Japan and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, but the 2006 World Cup was definitely something very special indeed," he recalled.
Al Kadri’s return to Germany means he is constantly reminded of his own ‘summer fairytale’, in which he spent three group matches working as a fourth official. "There were so many amazing experiences at that World Cup that I will never forget,” he said. His memories extend beyond events on the pitch. "At one point, my room was right next to Franz Beckenbauer’s and suddenly there he was, standing in front of me. It was unbelievable."
Football brings people together Despite swapping the World Cup and the pinnacle of the game for grassroots amateur football, the experienced referee is not fazed by his change in circumstances. "This is the land of the world champions,” he said. “Wonderful football is played here, no matter what league you’re in." After swapping Syria for rural Bavaria, Al Kadri has already noticed several differences, despite only overseeing a few matches so far.
"While players often complain to the referee here, they understand why I’ve blown the whistle more of the time,” he explained. “Although I officiated at a higher level in Syria, players understand the rules better in the lower divisions here," he added with a smile.
Has he encountered any language difficulties? "Everyone understands the language of football,” the 51-year-old said. “I give clear signals that everyone can understand." Nevertheless, Al Kadri is diligently attending German classes, knowing that the beautiful game is just the first step on the road to complete integration.
With hard times now behind them, the Al Kadri family have found a new home in Germany where they feel comfortable – thanks to both the warm reception they have received from local people and the fact that Hamdi has managed to build bridges through football.