Writing by Patrick Keddie
At first glance there is nothing remarkable about the football team warming up and firing balls towards the goal. After a while there are cries of “yalla, yalla;” two teams assemble and kick-off a practice match. At one point the ball breaks to Mohamed Ali El-Haj and he finds himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. El-Haj tries to fire off a shot,
but the ball is scuffed – something has gone awry – his leg dangles and then falls off, to guffaws from the other players. El-Haj gives a rueful smile, takes a moment to retrieve and re-attach his prosthesis, and gets back into the game.
El-Haj, 50, has played for the Lebanese Landmine Survivors’ Football Team since its inception in 2001. He is a slightly tubby goal-hanging striker in the mode of Christian Vieri or the Brazilian forward Ronaldo in late-career. His only difficulties in playing football are that “sometimes I lose my leg when I’m playing and sometimes I don’t score enough goals,” he laughs. El-Haj can be seen regularly haranguing his team-mates for failing to pass to him in goal-scoring opportunities.
El-Haj lost his left leg below the knee in 1992 after he stepped on a landmine in Beirut that had been planted during Lebanon’s civil war. “For the next year after my accident it was hell for me,” he says. It took him over a year to adjust to having a prosthetic limb.
The team meets every Wednesday evening to train and plays a hugely important role in El-Haj’s life. “I play football thinking that disability is not a barrier,” he says. “I can play football even with my artificial limb. Nothing can stop me.”
[Read the rest of the article published by NOW Lebanon here]