Salah is one of the more well-known Muslim players in England, and certainly the talk of the Premier League since Liverpool paid 34 million pounds (almost $48 million) in a transfer fee from Italy’s AS Roma last summer. He’s also very outward with his faith, often bowing in prayer after scoring goals.
That’s what makes this new song — in which fans sing of following Salah to mosque after he scores — so surprisingly welcome to experts who follow international soccer.
British fans are notoriously the most poorly behaved in the world, according to statistics kept by FARE Network (formerly Football Against Racism in Europe), a London-based nonprofit that studies discrimination in soccer.
It analyzed 1,378 soccer matches during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons and recorded 539 incidents of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, nationalist and Islamophobic nature, according the group’s monthly reports. British fans were responsible for 59 of those incidents, more than any other country.
And then along came Salah, and fans have quite literally changed their tune.
“This is the first time I’ve seen such an exuberant, overt, positive appreciation that includes [a player’s] religion,” FARE Executive Director Piara Powar said.
Liverpool fans have taken to affectionately calling Salah, a native of Egypt, “The Pharaoh” or “The Egyptian King.”
There have been other songs, too:
“He’s running down the wing,” one goes. “Egyptian king!”
“We brought the lad from Roma and he scores in every game,” starts another. “He’s Egyptian and he’s brilliant and Mohamed’s his name!”
It’s another case of a simple truth in professional sports, Piara said: Winning makes everybody feel good. Salah is playing very well, which excites fans, making them more apt to accept his ethnic and religious background when they may have not before.
“Good players break down barriers,” Piara said. “We know that an appreciation of someone as a player does lead to a look into their identity and, for many fans, an acceptance of their identity.”
It’s easy to go overboard about songs like this, Piara cautioned. A broad social movement is not solely made up of happy soccer fans, but this certainly helps.
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