Friday, 2 March 2012

Over The Wall

Back in September I set out with the SOAS football team on a mission to try and make a documentary about the latest installment of Football Beyond Borders. What started out as more of an adventure on something of a whim - with just two low budget cameras and some tapes - soon turned into something more serious, as news began to unfold around us and the scale of the team's goal dawned on the players.

The next month would represent a seminal moment for many of team members, as we embarked upon an ambitious itinerary in an extremely complex region that was being hotly contested. The old order in Egypt was being challenged before our eyes, and the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was coming under increased scrutiny.

A bombing campaign on Gaza, the risk of hostage attacks in the Sinai and a very vigilant Israeli border control ensured that suspicion was rife and every judgement the team made was bound to come under scrutiny. The group soon came to realise that ultimately they could only trust their own instincts in what now felt a long way from the classrooms of SOAS.

Although seemingly intrusive at first, the camera gradually became a point of refuge, a place where both players and locals alike could come and share their opinions. Typically someone who is outspoken and forthright, I had to learn the art of listening. Through becoming more of an observer I would come to see the importance of consideration, understanding and ultimately conviction.

In the face of events unfolding around them, would the guys continue with the tour and into Palestine? The outcome of this decision would ultimately transform the outlook of many of the players.

The common representation of different peoples and events by international media and policy makers did not correlate with what the players were witnessing and experiencing. How could such warm and welcoming people be so brazenly labelled as terrorists and violent protagonists? Although somewhat disconcerting at first, the players would come to revel in their newfound desire to reconstruct their own image of this world. They were hungry to learn and imbued with a sense of responsibility from the body of knowledge they acquired. I was left feeling inspired and enthused by this group of young men who were articulate, brave and determined to stand up for what they believed in.

The documentary that Matthew Kay and myself have made about the journey, entitled Over The Wall, charts this remarkable journey from the classrooms of SOAS to crossing the Sinai and beyond. It provides an insight into this unique group of young men, who challenge common perceptions of the Middle East, football and activism.

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