Marseille: the French Connection of the Comoros

When Mr. Peter Waweru kicks off the Gabon-Comoros match, 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 La Canebière for nearly fifty years. “Marseille is the capital of the Comoros” , smiles Arkane Mohamed, international with six selections and native of the Marseille city, today returned to Mayotte. It must be said that the links uniting the two territories have never ceased to be strengthened for fifty years.

The slow jump

The first Comorians to reach the French metropolis were mainly sailors, who settled near ports such as Dunkirk, Le Havre and Marseille. Scattered in the 1960s, Comorian migration to France intensified between 1975 and 1990. The consequence of tensions that arose 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 reminded them of the country” , underlines Omar M’Dahoma, who wore the national tunic four times. The same passion for football, too. However, on the green rectangle, the paradox has long been nurtured by years of emptiness. Affiliated to FIFA since 2006, the young Comoros team has indeed taken its time before emerging from this too long sleep. “In the early 2000s, you 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, there must have been around ten from the Comoros, no more. It felt like our community wasn’t leveraging its numbers, analyzes M’Dahoma. At home, we say that we must first “fill the bag”. So the most important thing was to find a job or to persevere in studies. We always had an inferiority complex because there were no role models for us. »

“We were summoned, 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 turn things around. “Ah, the intercommunity tournament, s’exclame Arkane Mohamed. What you need to know is that before meeting at the professional level and then in the selection, we all knew each other! » For Omar M’Dahoma, the memories of those 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, Castellane, Consolat or La Rose, playing football for fun, without thinking that it was going to lead us to where we are. » The “guys” in question will constitute the first real generation of Comorian professional footballers. “We played almost every day. There was the whole 1987 generation: myself, Kassim Abdallah, Mohamed M’Changama, who also brought 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 Athlético, still at Consolat, frame the meteoric progression of young shoots, the luckiest of which end up joining professional academies and whose headliner is called Djamel Bakar. “In the early 2010s, we finally had the feeling of existing on the chessboard, insists M’Dahoma. It started with Bakar obviously, then there was Kassim Follow Favorite what happened, 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 hidden in the shadows. “Of the 70 or 80,000 Comorians in Marseille, there must have been two in the national team. The Marseillais chambered us, s’amuse Arkane Mohamed. At the same time, it was a dark time. We were summoned, 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 made fun of me at the training center. He told me that we were the only country not to have a team. »

Djamel Bakar, flag bearer.

“Seeing all these Marseillais land in the national team, the Comorians understood that this connection was an asset and a huge source of pride. Already they all support OM, now they have one more reason to support the Comorians of Marseille. » Omar M’Dahoma

It is finally necessary to wait until 2014, so that a man makes drastically change the situation. Appointed coach in January, Amir Abdou decided to make this contingent, long discredited, 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 gaze of the Good mother. “Amir Abdou and his staff have done a lot of scouting work to convince the young people of the region to represent the country. They went all the way 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 is not long in being emulated. Faïz Selemani, twirling winger from Kortrijk and proud representative of his people at the CAN: “It made things 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 summons, we knew that there would be six of us leaving, so it was a bit of a hassle for Consolat, but it was great for the Comoros. »

The Cœlacanthes (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 us an hour and a half to get back to the hotel even though it was right next door… It was unforgettable. » M’Dahoma follows suit: “During a match against Ghana, we scored a goal, disallowed for offside. The stadium had literally 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 source of pride. Already they all support OM, now they have one more reason to support the Comorians of Marseille. And it’s an honor to have been able to participate in the sporting construction of my country. »

Forever the first

Like many of the players currently in Cameroon, rapper Alonzo has two hats: 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 the CAN. We only think about that, we only talk about that, says the artist. I saw the first period at the studio with friends. Then I took my car and drove home to see the second one. My wife doesn’t like football, so when I arrived, we weren’t on beIN Sports 3 at all… I quickly changed the channel. » Among the supporters, a feeling of pride and a sweet scent of euphoria have prevailed since the Cœlacanthes ensured their qualification by taking second place in their group, behind Egypt, but ahead of Kenya and Togo, yet much better referenced in the FIFA ranking.

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

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

Same feeling with the former Psy4 de la Rime, who proclaims this pride in the title “La Patrie” with his Comorian friends from the rap scene. “Being 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 feel like we’re all kind of cousins. If I search well, I will find at least one or two players with whom I have family ties. (Laughs.) Besides, I find the insult less easy when I look at the Comoros. I am a fervent supporter of OM and if a player misses an action, in the 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 from the same womb! » The star commentator Kassim Oumouri, who lives in Marseille, also evoked this emotional dimension when 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 diaspora, all the hopes of the locals. From the tip of our crampons, we write history on the flag. » By Quentin Ballue and Adel Bentaha
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