At 8 minutes into the final of the CAN 18 football tournament, a player from the Mauritanian team has scored three goals in a row.
A ball hitting the goalkeeper’s small net sounds like a cannonball. boom. boom. boom. His last two happen so quickly that many in the crowd miss them.
“Did they score?” asked a stunned Ivory Coast fan crushed next to me. “Yes, twice,” the Mauritanian fan across from me happily replied.
It doesn’t take long to realize that the soccer tournaments held each year in the 18th arrondissement of Paris are different. The stadium is a small caged grass court in the middle of the Good d’Or. Good d’Or is a densely packed destination for the working class as new waves of immigrants flock to the city, where African wax shops and boo-boo tailors compete with boulangerie and bistros in its crowded streets.
This competition was one of many Around Paris It is inspired by the 2019 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (Coupe d’Afrique desnation in French), which is normally held every two years. The event was so popular that the final was held in Creteil, a southeastern suburb of Paris. Aired on Amazon Prime last summer.
Mamdou Kamara’s main aim at Gut d’Or was not to shine a positive light on the community spirit of immigrants and neighborhoods located behind Europe’s busiest train station, Gare du Nord and one of the poorest, gritty and most diverse areas of the city. He was thinking the tournament might help his friends survive the hot nights during Ramadan. He pitched the idea on Snapchat, and by the end of that night in summer 2019, six teams had signed up. A day later there were 6 more.
Instead of hosting the event in a distant stadium, Kamala and his friends decided to spend summer nights and weekends in their childhood nest, a mini court in the center of a city park, competing for balls and rounds of Coca-Cola and Fanta. (The loser paid.)
It offers a completely different atmosphere than the marble statues and manicured flowerbeds of the Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens. On game nights, the park’s Plaza de Leon bustles with older men crowding around checkered tables, little kids climbing on playground equipment, and older women in West African costumes selling bags of homemade donuts and slimy, tingling ginger drinks.
Just before the start of the finals, the tambour player beats the rhythm.
“We have people of all nationalities in our neighborhood. We are proud to be multicultural,” said Kamala, 26.
About 30% of the district’s 21,000 inhabitants were immigrants or foreigners in 2019, according to the French National Institute of Statistics.
This year, the fourth time, 16 teams registered and played 31 games over three weeks. On the night of June, finally to the finals. A veteran team that won the inaugural edition in 2019, Ivory Coast are looking to reclaim the title by returning to their orange and green jerseys. Mauritania will challenge them. The team has a lot of young players, many of them semi-professionals, dressed in yellow and brown.The jersey was created by a celebrity local designer Collaborating with Nike, being invited to the presidential palace.
That’s just one sign of how the tournament has matured. This year, the nearby City Hall will have a small spectator area on one side of the court. Elsewhere, spectators stand up and claim their places well before the start of the match.
By the time the referee blows the whistle, we are eight rows apart.
The court measures just 25 meters by 16.5 meters, or about 82 feet by 54 feet, about 1/17th the size of the field recommended by FIFA. It is surrounded by a low concrete wall and topped by a tall chain link fence.
Confined areas create an intense game of precision, precision tricks, explosive speed, and explosive balls that bounce off walls and crash into fences every few minutes.
This is football in inches where your team loses or steals the ball within seconds.
Kamala and other organizers devised the rules. Each team has five players on the court. No offside. A corner kick is thrown. Any foul after the 5th foul in the first half will result in a penalty kick. The game lasts from 30 minutes he an hour depending on the importance.
The two are live streaming the match and another camera is rolling for the referee to review the play.
In the first year, all players had to be local, but later the rules were relaxed to allow players from other places to participate. But players who grew up competing on the court quickly reveal themselves by using the sidewall to their advantage, fending off defenders, bouncing passes to teammates, and returning passes to themselves.
Martin Riedler, who formed the French team for the tournament three years ago, likened the tournament to a boxing ring.
“The experience is so intense because you have to be on your toes all the time,” said Riedler, who attended the University of Santa Clara in California on a football scholarship. He has an elite squad that can hit the crossbar from the halfway line full-field, but can be overwhelming in the arena. “You know you can’t sleep at night after a game.”
Players slam each other into the grass and then pick each other up. They constantly wrestle with walls, at such a distance that spectators might skim them over the fence. They recreate spectacular maneuvers up close, flicking the ball over their opponent’s head or spinning it around their feet. That’s one of the beauties of a small court, said referee Bengali Soule. It’s a compression chamber for technical play.
“There is no space, but space is born,” he said.
Soule turned to the fence and applauded as the player jumped and kicked the ball in the air into the net.
Spectators are part of the fun too. Audiences shout their observations to the sound of African beats blaring from speakers. There is no consensus that the No. 7 player for Mauritania – who plays for the Italian team – is a dangerous force. And although Ivory Coast are increasingly on the back foot, the game could change at any moment.
“I’ve seen teams come back from losing 1-4,” said Makenzie Kapaya, a 37-year-old artist who grew up in Good Doll. Like many in the crowd, he came back to watch the game and reunite with his childhood friends.
“If you have a problem, people will help you here, no matter where you come from,” Kapaya said.
Densely working-class, Gutte D’or often makes headlines for drugs, prostitution, violence and other unflattering reasons.library closed Three years ago, employees said they had been repeatedly threatened by dealers selling at the door. A local police station was raided this summer following the police shooting of 17-year-old Neher Merzouq and subsequent protests across the country.
The mayor of the 18th arrondissement, Eric Lejoandre, pointed out that for years, local volunteers have silently taken care of the housework, cooking and housing.Good Doll’s group of therapists Hold regular listening sessionsChairs are lined up in the open space for passers-by to unload their luggage.
Despite its many problems, Lejoandre said the district has a big heart.
“Locals know it, but sometimes you need it to show up in a spectacular way,” he said. “For me, CAN is he’s one of those moments when the neighborhood enjoys something a little bit special.”
After half-time, the Ivory Coast players rallied to make it 9-7. But then Mauritania pulls out their energy and dream plugs. Mauritania scored again as the sky darkened into a pitch black night and the crowd held up their cellphones as lanterns. and again. and again. Dawn, Dawn, Dawn. Players start doing a little dance every time they score a goal.
As Soule blew the full whistle, the crowd thronged the small court, screaming and embracing the young Mauritanian team in jubilation.
Kamala, who plans to take a few weeks off before starting preparations for next year’s event, said she was always amazed at how much joy the small tournament brought to her neighborhood. He said he sees this as a uniting event at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in France and identity politics is intensifying. “I thought we were just starting something for fun, but we made something bigger,” he said.
Red and white fireworks were launched over a small park in the center of Gut d’Or. Celebrations last for hours.
Juliet Gueron-Gabriel Contributed research from Paris.