Marseille: the French Connection of the Comoros

When Mr. Peter Waweru kicks off the Gabon-Comoros meeting, it is 10 p.m. in Moroni. A late schedule, which the million inhabitants of the four islands of the archipelago absolutely do not care about. And for good reason, the 28 Comorian players present in Cameroon are preparing to mark the history of their country by honoring it with a first participation in the African Cup of Nations. 7000 kilometers away, Marseille also vibrates. About 80,000 souls, major components of the island diaspora, have been living around the Canebière for nearly fifty years. “Marseille is the capital of the Comoros” , smiles Arkane Mohamed, international with six selections and native of the Phocaean city, today returned to Mayotte. It must be said that the links uniting the two territories have never ceased to strengthen for the past fifty years.

The slow jump

The first Comorians to join the French metropolis were mainly sailors, who settled near ports such as Dunkirk, Le Havre and Marseille. Scattered in the 1960s, Comorian migrations in France intensified between 1975 and 1990. The consequence of tensions that appeared in Zanzibar and Madagascar, and of a political and socio-economic crisis in the archipelago. “Our parents found in Marseille a geography and an environment that reminds them of the country” , underlines Omar M’Dahoma, who wore the national tunic four times. The same passion for the round ball, too. Yet on the green rectangle, the paradox has long been fueled by years of emptiness. Affiliated with FIFA since 2006, the young team of the Comoros has indeed taken its time before emerging from this too long sleep. “At the start of the 2000s, we really had to look to find Comorian players, even in the youth categories. When I was myself at the OM training center, out of 100 players, we must have been ten from the Comoros, no more. It gave the impression that our community was not putting its numbers to good use, M’Dahoma analysis. With us, we say that we must first “fill the suitcase”. So the most important thing was to find a job or to persevere in studies. We have always had an inferiority complex because there were no role models for us. ”

“We were called in, but we were asked to pay for our plane tickets ourselves. Can you imagine professional players who are asked to manage to travel? ” Arkane Mohamed

A tournament will therefore change things. “Ah, the intercommunity tournament, s’exclame Arkane Mohamed. What you need to know is that before finding ourselves at the professional level and then in selection, we all knew each other! ” For Omar M’Dahoma, the memories of these decisive moments are still fresh: “It all started with this competition that we had between the different districts of Marseille. Guys who came from Font Vert, La Castellane, Consolat or La Rose, playing football for fun, without thinking that it was going to get us where we are. ” The “Guys” in question will constitute the first real generation of professional Comorian footballers. “We played almost every day. There was the whole 1987 generation: myself, Kassim Abdallah, Mohamed M’Changama, who also brought back his little brother Youssouf, and the youngest like Salim Ben Boina, Ali M’Madi and Rafidine Abdullah. ” Players looking for a common goal: to give visibility to their community.

Marseille Consolation

The surrounding amateur clubs then naturally turn into anchoring ports. Marignane-Gignac, Endoume, but above all L’Athlético, still in Consolat, supervise the meteoric progress of young shoots, the luckiest of which end up joining professional academies and whose headliner is called Djamel Bakar. “At the start of the 2010s, we finally had the feeling of existing on the chessboard, insists M’Dahoma. It started with Bakar obviously, then there was Kassim (Abdullah) who arrived, then the M’Changama brothers and all the guys from the different tournaments that we met in the neighborhood. From there, the Marseillais understood that the Comorians had their place in football. ” But if the individualities come to light, the national team remains lurking in the shadows. “Of the 70 or 80,000 Comorians in Marseille, there must have been two in the national team. The Marseillais upset us, s’amuse Arkane Mohamed. At the same time, it was a dark time. We were called in, but we were asked to pay for our plane tickets ourselves. Can you imagine professional players who are asked to manage to travel? ” An observation shared by Omar M’Dahoma: “Even Mehdi Benatia was laughing at me at the training center. He told me that we were the only country not to have a team. ”

Djamel Bakar, standard bearer.

“Seeing all these Marseillais disembarking in the national team, the Comorians understood that this connection was an asset and an enormous pride. Already they all support OM, now they have a reason in addition to supporting the Comorians of Marseille. ” Omar M’Dahoma

We finally have to wait until 2014, for a man to drastically change the situation. Appointed coach in January, Amir Abdou decides to make this contingent, long disregarded, the hard core of his project. Like goalkeeper Ali Ahamada, defender Kassim Abdallah or the M’Changama brothers, eleven of the players selected for the CAN were born in the Bouches-du-Rhône, not to mention that the coach himself grew up under the watchful eye of the Good mother. “Amir Abdou and his staff have done a lot of scouting to convince the young people of the region to represent the country. They went up to the amateur level to look for players ” , says M’Dahoma. A successful reflection, renewing the Marseille-Comoros link through the long-awaited prism of the round ball and the result of which does not take long to emulate. Faïz Selemani, twirling Kortrijk winger and proud representative of his people at CAN: “It made it easier for me when I arrived. I already knew five or six players before joining the team. There are quite a few with whom I played at Marseille Consolat. At each call, we knew there would be six to leave, so it was a bit annoying for Consolat, but it was great for the Comoros. ”

The Coelacanths (nickname in reference to a prehistoric fish, symbol of Comorian heritage) find their cruising speed. In the Indian Ocean, Marseille unity has never seemed so strong. “We live for football in Marseille, and when we go to the country, it’s the same, assure Selemani. After my first match against Cameroon, it took an hour and a half to get back to the hotel when it was right next door … It was unforgettable. ” M’Dahoma follows suit: “In a match against Ghana, we scored a goal, which was refused for offside. The stadium had completely exploded, the ground was shaking so much the supporters were happy. And yet, there was no goal! But it reflects the way people have learned to assimilate this passion. Seeing all these Marseillais land in the national team, the Comorians understood that this connection was an asset and a huge pride. Already they all support OM, now they have a reason in addition to supporting the Comorians of Marseille. And it is an honor to have been able to participate in the sporting construction of my country. ”

Forever the first

Like many players currently in Cameroon, rapper Alonzo has the double hat: Marseille and Comorian. It was therefore out of the question for him to miss the match against Gabon. “It seems so unreal to be at CAN. We only think about that, we only talk about that, confides the artist. I saw the first period at the studio with some friends. Then I took my car and drove home to see the second one. My wife doesn’t like soccer, so when I arrived we weren’t on beIN Sports 3 at all … I quickly changed the channel. ” Among the fans, a feeling of pride and a sweet scent of euphoria dominate since the Coelacanths secured their qualification by taking second place in their group, behind Egypt, but ahead of Kenya and Togo, however much better referenced in the FIFA ranking.

“It’s a small country and sometimes I have the impression that we’re all kind of cousins. If I search well, I will find at least one or two players that I have family ties with. ” Alonzo

Arkane Mohamed describes the picture, necessarily colorful: “We are in competition with the Algerians to find out who will put the most atmosphere in the Old Port. (Laughs.) It had taken a little time to take, but now all Marseillais are focused on the competition. I have the impression that even foreigners support us! In Mayotte, the sky is decorated with the flags of the Comoros and from what my brother told me, in Marseille, it’s the same in the Comorian neighborhoods. Besides, Comorians generally have a sense of celebration, so even if they are disappointed, they will continue to dance. After the defeat against Gabon, despite the disappointment, people honked everywhere, whether in the Comoros or in Marseille. ”

Even felt in the former Psy4 de la Rime, who proclaims this pride in the title “La Patrie” with his Comorian friends from the rap scene. “To be there is already a victory, he assures. I have a lot of friends in the staff, including Nasser Makif, with whom I grew up. It’s a small country and, sometimes, I have the impression that we are all a bit cousins. If I search well, I will find at least one or two players that I have family ties with. (Laughs.) Besides, I have the less easy insult when I look at the Comoros. I am a fervent supporter of OM and if a player misses an action, in euphoria, bad words can come out. Non. They are all Comorians like me, I have the impression that they are all my brothers, that we all came out of the same belly! ” Star commentator Kassim Oumouri, who lives in Marseille, also evoked this emotional dimension by speaking of the national team as a family. Frustrated against the Panthers, but ready to lift the Moroccan mountain to keep a hope of reaching the knockout stages. As Soprano, Rohff, Alonzo and their colleagues put it so well: “It’s the power of the diaspo, all the hopes of the locals. With the tips of our crampons, we write history on the flag. ” By Quentin Ballue and Adel Bentaha
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