A player kisses the Gaza cup. Photo by Patrick.

They are massively into their football and dream of going to South Africa for the World Cup. But they live in the Gaza Strip and the borders are closed.

So - the Palestinian Football Federation, with children's charity Kitegang and the United Nations Development Programme, decided to host their very own "Gaza World Cup 2010".

The event is taking place over the first two weeks in May - "so as not to clash" with the tournament in South Africa which begins on June 11.

The matches are held in the "Yarmouk" and "Palestine" stadiums. Sixteen teams, made up of local players and some representatives of respective countries, are vying for the coveted trophy.

"You want to go to South Africa but the borders are closed? Well the World Cup has come to Gaza." Photo from the Gaza World Cup 2010 website.

"Even the American team was warmly received"

American Patrick McGann, who works for Kitegang in the Palestinian territories, is one of the “Gaza World Cup” organisers.

We organised the tournament in partnership with 16 Gazan football teams, of which 14 are professional clubs. Some of the players are local amateurs; others are foreigners working here in the enclave, either as humanitarian aid workers or as journalists.

Each team includes some professional Palestinian players, which means that the standard of the football will be at a decent enough level to pull in the crowds.

Finding a good balance for the teams has been complicated. For example, with the South African team, we know we have one South African player who is a UN employee. But all the other players are locals.

Posted on Facebook by Nermeen Al-Bukhari.

The aim is to give Gazans and foreigners working here something that they can share. At the opening game, some 5,000 spectators showed up. They were all happy to be able to socialise and relax, bearing in mind that they live in what is usually an extremely stressful environment. There is absolutely nothing political about the event, and even the American team was warmly received.

Making the trophy, from scrap metal taken from building destroyed in the violence.

At the end of the tournament, the victorious team will be presented with the "Gaza World Cup" trophy. This is modelled on the FIFA trophy that will be presented to the winning team in South Africa. But ours has been made from scrap metal recovered from buildings in Gaza that have been destroyed. It's our way of showing that we are respectful of how tough daily life is here in Gaza.

The opening ceremony. Posted on Facebook by Nermeen Al-Bukhari.

The fans. Posted on Facebook by Nermeen Al-Bukhari.

"We were the only girls in the stadium"

Lina is a student living in Gaza. She writes a blog titled "Live from Gaza - 360km² of Chaos"

May 2 was the opening game but unfortunately I missed it. But yesterday (May 3), my friends and I attended our very first football match.

Stadiums in Gaza are for men. Girls going to watch a football match is not a familiar thing. So, my friend and I were worried that our parents would not let us go. Surprisingly, my father gave me permission, assuming that I would be bored and leave at once.

I am not a fan of football. But that didn't mean that I didn't want to try the feeling of being in a football ground watching people cheering over men passing a ball.

England-Jam3y Rafah vs. Ireland-Friendship

The match was at 5pm. We didn't want to be three girls going into male-dominated territory alone, so the brothers of some friends came with us (although they are much younger than us!).

We three scarf-wearing girls were given looks that said "what are you doing here?" by the guards at the stadium. They thought we were journalists, but we innocently said that "We are here because we want to watch the game." 

Still surprised, they gave us seats among the foreign supporters. We were the literally the only girls at the game except for a few who came later on.

The "Palestine" stadium was not full, as it was at the opening match.

The match started while we were making our way to our seats. The teams playing were Jama'y Rafah England versus Friendship-Ireland.

I was "cheering" for Ireland (I didn't really cheer, but I supported Ireland) while my friends were supporting England.

"England" vs "Ireland"

Training.

Children hold the Gaza Cup. Photo posted by Patrick.

 

 

"Save Gaza. Freedom for Palestine."

The fans.

The referees.

The "United States" team and two "Serbia" players.