After a particularly rough day at school, I got into my taxi with my Serbian friend, Bojan and we commenced our usual chat about the day’s lessons, both in and out of the classroom. Quick sidenote: Bojan’s name, pronounced “BOI-yan,” is somehow rather difficult for Arabic speakers to pronounce. As a result, his family—which includes mine, as we happen to be cousins—calls him Adam. Anyway, so this day was different for a number of reasons. 1) Our taxi driver spoke pretty good English and 2) was willing to put up with us long enough to impart a few words of Arabic. Nothing wrong with a free lesson, right? So we go to talking about the new construction projects going on in Amman (English), where we were from (Arabic), and his family that lives in Kansas City (attempted in Arabic….but finished in English). Right as we were pulling up to our stop, though, he began talking about the upcoming World Cup Qualifying match between the People’s Republic of China and Jordan…to be played that very same day at a stadium less than a 10 minute walk from our homes. Instantly, Bojan and I agreed that this was too good of an opportunity to pass up!
Immediately, we asked the cabbie to pull over, paid our cab fare (Only $2!), and went inside “Sports City” to have a look around. Built a number of years ago, this massive expanse of land in the North of Amman houses every national athletic association, Olympic-level club, and many, many stadiums and gyms. Bojan and I had tried exploring the area a few days prior…but lost our way and spent almost half an hour trying to figure out how to get back home. Although, on the bright side, we did spot the Jordanian National Chess Association…so I may have to stop in for a game or two before I head out.
This time, however, we knew exactly where we were going, but not because of any particular insight into Amman’s layout. The throngs of excited Jordanians decked out in jerseys, flags, and banners heading for the massive edifice that is the Amman International Stadium made the game’s location very apparent. Though the game would not start for a couple of hours, we decided to buy our tickets on the spot to ensure that we would have a seat there. The price? Only 4 JD ($6)….and that was from the scalpers! (Turns out though, that 10 minutes before the game started, Prince Ali declared that all Jordanians were welcome to the match without a ticket…so much for planning ahead in Jordan!)
After getting our tickets, as well as an extra one for our friend, Melissa, we headed to our respective homes to grab a bite to eat before setting out for the game. On the way there, I happened to see my host brother Ahmad, who leapt with excitement at seeing my ticket for the match! The rest of my host family seemed to share our enthusiasm, as when we entered the door to our flat and informed my maamaa about my upcoming attendance at the match, dinner seemed to magically come together just in time for me to make it to the stadium with almost an hour to spare.
There, I met Bojan and a very dumbstruck Melissa (she must have been one of 20 females in a stadium of about 10,000), walked up to the entrance and saw the massive line to get inside. Apparently, the Jordanian authorities only let in around 200 visitors at a time, and we had just missed one of the final cutoffs. When it finally seemed that there would be no getting in for quite some time, I noticed that a rather old woman pushed through the line, which now resembled more of an amoeba, and was let in with little trouble from the guards. Almost instinctively, I nudged Melissa to the front of our group and demanded that the men in the crowd make way for her. As Jordan houses a rather chivalrous society, especially with regards towards the kind treatment of women, the shebaab, or “guys”, quickly stepped aside to let her and her party, A.K.A. Bojan and I, through. When we reached the front of the pack, I held my breath to see what the army official standing before us would do. However, a simple, kind, 3afwan (“please?”), was all it took for the gentlemen to let us enter…and just in time too! As I walked into the enormous venue, I saw nothing by rows upon rows of packed stands…without an available seat in sight. Fortunately though, in the more peripheral rows, we saw the last three empty seats in an entirely packed section. “How lucky could we be?!” we asked ourselves.
After climbing through what seemed like an impenetrable wall of fans, we finally made it to our spot, and it couldn’t have been better. In what seemed like the Jordanian version of a Superfan, a rotund man of about 50 entirely decked out in black, red, and green (the national colors), led the crowd in some of the most memorable, exciting, and offensive pre-game chants I had ever heard. Soon after we got settled, though, the FIFA announcer came on to welcome the teams in both Arabic and English. Mind you, the Chinese did not exactly receive a warm reception, and some light jeering proved to be the appropriate reaction to their entrance. On the other hand, the Jordanian flags that we all purchased before entering the stadium proved rather useful at friend-making, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by supportive, and rather curious, fellow fans. As the game went underway, we began to take part in some of the cheering, and pretty soon, some Mr. Superfan came up to our trio and asked a booming, “WHERE FROM?” After our answer, he instructed the crowd to clap and chant “U.S.A” for a bit, something that I didn’t think I’d ever see outside of the United States, and invited us to join in a number of ‘Go, Jordan!’s.
Though the first half was rather dull, with neither side scoring a goal, the game heated up after halftime with two goals, by Jordan…almost in succession! What a sight it was to see thousands and thousands of people cheering for their country’s victory over an opponent that many expected to win. Sadly, a goal by China just a minute later dampened the crowd’s spirits temporarily; they were soon cheering Jordan on with more vigor than before! Despite a very aggressive endgame by the Chinese, the Jordanian team was able to hold them off and finish the game 2-1. At the end of the match, there was literally a race out of the stadium to the streets, filled with people jumping up and down, waving their flags all around, and, of course, blocking traffic, in celebration of the momentous victory! Indeed, for the first time in a long while, Jordan was going to be competing in the World Cup!
I can barely express how thankful I am to have been able to share in such a fantastic occasion with the Jordanian fans. For the first time, in a long while, I felt as though I were at home. While few things can compare to the adrenaline rush of watching my student-athlete friends at Austin College make a great block, or score a winning point, this came pretty close. And what more could I ask for than that precious feeling of home half a world, and half a year, away from Texas.