I looked up at the sky and there was the glowing moon like a golden Salaam Cup football as I was departing from Harefield Academy car park just before midnight. The venue was totally empty accompanied but a total silence and the lamp in the sky was calmly looking over the venue that had been filled with Salaam and Salaam again over the past 15 hours.
Months of planning and weeks of detailed preparation culminated in a spectacular event, radiant not only from the sunshine but more so from the rays and energy generated by the people present. From the very outset, the SJFA vehicle has been driven by the energy generated by the inner core – management, coaches, players and parents however the Salaam Cup journey accelerated the power levels to an immeasurable degree involving the community cross-section. In my speech on Eid night I mentioned the words ‘we are a strong community’ which I would like to rephrase to say ‘we are a strong and powerful community’.
At noon, I escaped the crowd and the games heading towards what I thought was going to be a silent corner where I could enjoy a nice cup of tea and consume the Bharaazi and Mandaazi which I saw from distance during breakfast time. As I entered the kitchen, I could not immediately ascertain whether the energy on the astro pitches was more intense or the level of the Swahili conversation amongst the ladies. Whilst unaware whether they were talking about Ronaldo or Messi as my knowledge of the language is virtually what would make a goal-keeper happy in terms of conceding goals, I am now fully aware of who Gully Aunty is and instead of one cup I probably ended up having a few more whilst being treated like royalty during my fifteen minute break. This clearly signifies the commitment and engagement of our community members whether they are directly connected or never even watched one full half of a football game. Equally, any Premiership league club would be over the moon to have our CPVs as their traffic control crew and I simply cannot solve the equation in my mind of how they managed to co-ordinate the traffic and flow of people at that level, but then again they never cease to amaze us. On this note and that this point I would like to put my sincere appreciation on record for each and every volunteer, or shall I say Salaamteer !
The teams had lined up for the tournament in an array of kit colours and models which could have been a friendly competition in itself. The range reflected this year’s theme, embracing diversity and connecting with a wider range of communities and faiths. To this effect, it was an honour indeed to welcome Kevin Coleman (FA Head of Diversity ) who has been tremendously supportive throughout our journey. Jo Liddar, the Indian Gymkhana head wrote to me on Sunday 6.56am: “Shafique, thank you very much for inviting us to your tournament. It was a fantastic set up and all you guys had done an exceptional job all the way through. Please tell your volunteers salaamteers well done and thank you for being great hosts.. you guys deserve a trophy” and these are not empty words but very genuine indeed, encapsulating the sentiments of our guests.
On Sunday afternoon the following day, I had a 30 minute phone call with the head of Belmont United, Mohamed Kassamali, with 20 years experience from grass root football tournaments and he said that this was the best and most organised event he has experienced. ‘Moe’ then mentioned something very profound illustrating what extensive individual impact our event has resulted in. Players in his team come from various backgrounds and faiths and whilst they insisted on waiting for one hour after their final for the presentation, purely because they were enjoying the atmosphere, Moe spoke to them about the value of a community illustrated on the day. In that conversation one of his players was so inspired by Salaam Cup that he would now consider taking up badminton sessions arranged by his local community.
Furthermore, this year’s Salaam Cup and the SJFA progress over the season has ignited a conversation across the CoEJ communities to join hands and share best practice with a view to facilitate wider opportunities for our children. Inspired by the engrossed coaches communicating their tactics and the passionate execution by the players, the management capitalised on the momentum by engaging in strategic conversations about development and building further. These conversations were occasionally and pleasantly interrupted by some outstanding sets of skills and display, further boosting our ambition to widen the scope. Cognisance of the massive potential ahead of us is equally accompanied by the awareness of challenges and the potential will only be realised by ensuring strong co-operation and sustainable models.
As I was walking across the Academy throughout the day, absorbing the atmosphere and energy whilst engaging with people in between catching the action from the pitches, I realised what a tremendous pulling factor Salaam Cup had become in connecting our community internally leading up to the day and more importantly on the day of delivery. The presence of our community leaders and senior members re-emphasises their support to our cause encouraging the SJFA family to move forward taking the next steps. Even my father and mother who last came to a football event back in Sweden probably 30 years ago made their way to Salaam Cup to share their blessings. This internal foundation on a community and personal level alike is critical indeed allowing us to build externally.
Standing in front of the crowds to open and close the day with the message of peace and respect has been a great responsibility accompanied by honour and we are humbled by the tremendous support received from the community. On the same token, I would like to take the opportunity to extend my sincere personal apologies as well as on behalf of my team if we have done or said anything that has been received in a different spirit than it was delivered or intended.
All young players have their own dreams and witnessing the children’s participation and engagement, allowing themselves to design their dreams and memories, is a blessing no words can describe. Our responsibility is to facilitate the platform and stage on which they can perform and deliver paving way for the golden ball to shine over them.
On a final note, I would like to extend a sincere appreciation to Hujjat EC, Hujjat Ladies Committee, SJ Gents Board, SJ Ladies Committee, and the Sponsors for your tremendous support and belief awarded to us throughout the Salaam Cup process. You are all winners of the SJFA Ballon d’Or.
God Bless you all.
Salaams & Duas
Head of SJFA