As Morocco hosts the FIFA Club World Cup, members of the Winners 2005 fan group describe their football club as “a source of hope, of life”.
Casablanca, Morocco – In Casablanca’s old town, labels and murals reflecting the past and present of Wydad AC Football Club can be found everywhere.
The team’s die-hard fans are known as some of the most passionate and organized in the world, known for their “push”: choreographed displays of support involving huge banners and flags.
Those fans are preparing to cheer on this year’s African Champions League winners, who will face Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal on Saturday in the second round of the FIFA Club World Cup, which kicked off this week in Morocco.
“We are ‘ultras,'” a member of the Winners 2005 fan group, who did not want to give his name, tells me.
Our job is to represent the club.
The name Winners 2005 reflects the year in which the so-called “ultras” culture became popular in Morocco. The term “ultra” was first used in Italy, but is now associated with any fanatical group of supporters.
Despite being relatively young and mostly students, the members of Winners 2005 are imbued with a deep sense of the club’s decade-long history and what it means to be a Wydad fan.
“This team is about resistance,” said another supporter. “Resistance and Nationalism. Our grandparents fought to make this club. We continue this fight.”
It is Wydad’s origin story that informs the feelings the team inspires in its supporters.
During the French occupation, access to sports facilities in Morocco was limited, so some residents of the country decided in the mid-1930s to create their own club. Wydad Athletic Club started as a water polo team but quickly grew into soccer. The country became a symbol of the nationalist movement whenever it played.
“Wydad is a source of hope, a source of life,” said Mohamed Zanun, a Wydad fan who has followed the team for more than 50 years.
“It gives me a vision of a beautiful world; it’s how I breathe, how I forget my problems,” he added.
“After a week of work, I’m going on an adventure with my love. It is a love that can only be understood by those who have grown up with the club.”
When I suggested to another supporter, Mohamed Kiddy, that the fans were Wydad’s 12th man, his response was laughter.
“Not on the 12th – no, no, no,” he said. “We are the first.”
Wydad are Morocco’s most successful side, with 22 league titles to their name, but this is only their second appearance at the Club World Cup.
The 19th edition of the tournament brings together the respective champions of each of FIFA’s six premier regional competitions along with the host nation’s league champions.
In addition to Vidad and Al Hilal, this year the teams Flamengo (Brazil) are participating; Al Ahly (Egypt); Auckland City (New Zealand); Real Madrid (Spain); and Seattle Sounders (USA).
“We are the champions of Africa and we are not afraid of anyone,” Kiddy said before the meeting with Al Hilal.
“Playing in Morocco gives us a big advantage. Not only Wydad fans will support the team, but also the whole country.”