THE ISLAMIC FOUNDATION
The Victory Boys: Team Spirit First Published in 2015 by THE ISLAMIC FOUNDATION Distributed by KUBE PUBLISHING LTD Tel +44 (0)1530 249230, Fax +44 (0)1530 249656 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.kubepublishing.com Text copyright © 2015 Jamal Orme Artwork copyright © 2015 Kube Publishing All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner Author Jamal Orme Illustrator Eman Salem Book design Nasir Cadir Cover design Louis McKay Editor Yosef Smyth A Cataloguing-in-Publication Data record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978-0-86037-620-0 eISBN 978-0-86037-680-4 Printed by Imak Ofset, Turkey
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, May Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Peace and Blessings be upon His Final Prophet, his family and his noble companions For Hamza, Yusuf and Nusaybah, who enjoyed the first And Shahina, who endured the second.
1 Latecomer, Newcomer
Ibrahim was late. He pulled his bag over his shoulder and ran at full pelt out of the front door and into the street. A yawning woman was following her toddler out of a shop and had to yank him back by his hood to avoid the little one being flattened. ‘Sorry!’ called Ibrahim, half-turning to offer a glimpse of his apologetic smile amid an explosion of black hair. He wished he didn’t have to run. Running wasn’t a part of his game. He was built to score goals. And Ibrahim was certainly well-built for his age. No, he generally reserved his running for emergencies – and this was surely one of those. He vividly recalled the warning: ‘If you continue to be late, Ibrahim… you know 1
what the consequences will be, don’t you?’ He knew. Something too terrible to contemplate. Being excluded from football training – when the tournament was just around the corner. That would be a hefty blow. ‘OOMPH!’ grunted Ibrahim as, reaching the junction, he was hit suddenly by a cannonball in a coat. His assailant stumbled to his feet. A pair of small, friendly eyes sparkled at Ibrahim from beneath an oversized red woollen hat. ‘Junayd!’ he exclaimed, ‘As-salamu ‘alaykum! Hey, be careful, there’s no need to tackle me here!’ ‘Wa ‘alaykum as-salam,’ chuckled Junayd, as he struggled to drag his larger friend to his feet. ‘Sorry man, I’m rushing – I don’t want the “hairdryer” treatment when we get there.’ ‘I wouldn’t mention that term. He probably isn’t too familiar with Sir Alex Ferguson. The last thing we need is him blow drying our hair. Come on, race ya.’ The two sped on, the nippier Junayd holding back a little for Ibrahim’s sake. As they turned the final corner before the mosque, a familiar figure came into view, holding up a pair of garden shears. ‘Hello boys!’ called Mr Bateman cheerfully. ‘Haircut anyone?’ ‘Hi, Mr Bateman!’ smiled Junayd, slowing to a halt. Ibrahim waved and bent over to catch his breath. 2
‘Late again boys?’ enquired the mosque’s friendly neighbour, raising an eyebrow. ‘I suppose my friend the Imam might not be too pleased about that. You’d better improve his mood and tell him that he and Coach Saleem are invited to my house for a cream tea this afternoon.’ ‘Thanks, Mr Bateman,’ said Junayd. ‘We’ll tell him.’ Ibrahim momentarily forgot the urgency of his situation and began to picture the cream tea. ‘Can I come t…’ he began. ‘Come on, Ibrahim,’ interrupted Junayd. ‘We’re late!’ Imam Munieb’s eyes narrowed as he heard feet stampeding in his direction. ‘Ibrahim and Junayd,’ mumbled a voice from the back of the classroom. The Imam pretended he hadn’t heard and turned to stare at the door. ‘Ibrahim and Junayd!’ he announced as the door swung open. ‘It is all too predictable!’ The class sat back in their chairs, preparing for the boys’ scolding. Ibrahim swallowed nervously. He knew what was coming. ‘Late again, Ibrahim!’ the Imam went on. ‘I warned you about the consequences, didn’t I?’ ‘Mr Bateman invited you to his house, Imam!’ interrupted Junayd hopefully. ‘And Coach Saleem! For a cream tea! This afternoon! Er, as-salamu ‘alaykum, Imam,’ he added. 3
Imam Munieb could not imagine why anyone would want to pour cream into a perfectly good cup of tea, but it sounded interesting. ‘Wa ‘alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullah,’ he said, trying to maintain a look of annoyance. ‘Sit down boys. I’ll speak to you after class.’ Junayd sat next to Ali at the back. The only other vacant seat was next to Abdullah directly under Imam Munieb’s watchful eye. Ibrahim gave an internal groan as his friend patted the chair. Ibrahim trudged over to take his place. ‘As-salamu ‘alaykum,’ smiled Abdullah as Ibrahim plonked himself into the chair. ‘Fifth time you’ve been late since January, you know. Fourth occasion you’ve been more than five minutes late.’ ‘Wa ‘alaykum as-salam, Stat-man,’ grumbled Ibrahim. ‘Don’t tell me: One hundred percent of them have been on a Sunday.’ ‘Well obviously!’ exclaimed Abdullah, failing to notice the sarcasm. ‘We only have madrasah on Sundays…’ ‘May we continue?’ interrupted the Imam, his patience thinning. ‘Sorry, Imam,’ said the boys in unison. ‘Thank you,’ he paused. ‘Where was I? Ah, yes. Today, inshallah, we will start with a short reminder, the theme of which is to love for your brother what you love for your…’ A sharp knock at the door stopped him once more. 4
‘Yes!’ he called in a somewhat exasperated voice. ‘What is it now? Come in!’ The door opened and a tall, shaven-headed man stepped into the room. Under his jacket, he wore a sparkling blue Chelsea shirt, which sloped over his belly. Behind the man followed an athletic-looking boy of equal height, also wearing a Chelsea shirt and sports trousers. He glanced coolly at the boys as the man introduced himself. ‘Imam Munieb? As-salamu ‘alaykum. I’m Sofiane Zidane. And this is my son, Amir.’ Imam Munieb rose from his seat to shake Mr Zidane’s outstretched hand. ‘Wa ‘alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullah,’ he replied warmly. ‘You are very welcome. And Amir,’ he added, shaking the son’s hand. ‘Are you visiting us?’ ‘No, Imam,’ said Mr Zidane before Amir could answer. ‘We’ve just moved here. I have a job in the city and this is a good base for us.’ ‘And Amir,’ asked the Imam. ‘You will be going to school?’ ‘Oh yes,’ replied Mr Zidane immediately. ‘Amir will be going to Brunswick. He’ll be in Year Nine.’ ‘We go to Brunswick!’ called Ali, pointing to himself, Junayd and Abdullah in quick succession. ‘Yeah, we’re all in Year Nine,’ confirmed Junayd. Amir nodded, but said nothing. ‘Oh, very good, excellent,’ said Mr Zidane. ‘So you 5
know some people already, Amir.’ He turned back to Imam Munieb and the two began to converse more discreetly. Ibrahim had been admiring Amir’s pristine sportswear. ‘You play football?’ he whispered. Amir’s face suddenly lit up, ‘Yeah!’ he replied. ‘We have a club every Sunday, after madrasah,’ Ibrahim told him. ‘You should come. There’s a tournament in a few weeks too – we won it last year!’ ‘Sweet,’ said Amir, though he didn’t look particularly impressed. ‘Yeah, we destroyed the others,’ Ibrahim went on. Exaggerating to win the newcomer’s approval. ‘Taught the favourites a lesson in the final.’ ‘Well,’ interrupted Abdullah, ‘Sedgecombe did have 81 per cent possession…’ ‘What position do you play?’ asked Amir. ‘Striker,’ beamed Ibrahim. ‘I was the top…’ ‘Yeah? Me too. Well, forward… or midfield, y’know. So if I join you guys, you’re my competition, right?’ Ibrahim was momentarily silenced by this thought. He looked Amir up and down. Was he likely to be any good? He couldn’t be sure but he was talking the talk. Ibrahim could do that too, of course. ‘Ha!’ he resumed with an air of bravado. ‘You won’t find it easy to break into the side. I don’t think Coach Saleem’ll change a winning team! But don’t let me put you off,’ he added. 7
‘You haven’t,’ said Amir dismissively. The boys fell silent as the adults’ conversation continued. ‘So, Mr Zidane,’ said Imam Munieb, gesturing towards his own chair, ‘If Amir would like to stay, he is welcome, as you are too. And if he would like to play football at eleven thirty, I’m sure Coach Saleem will be very happy to meet him!’
2 Amir Makes an Impression
‘Phew,’ breathed Ibrahim with relief, as the wind slammed the mosque door shut behind him. ‘That wasn’t too bad!’ ‘Last chance, he said!’ Junayd reminded him. ‘Why are you always late anyway?’ Ibrahim smiled nervously. ‘Well. Actually, I’ve…’ ‘I can’t wait for the Hilsham sixes!’ interrupted Junayd enthusiastically, oblivious to the words of his friend. ‘Do you think we can win it again?’ ‘Yeah man, definitely! Maybe we can stay fit for the final this time as well!’ Coach Saleem had picked two teams for a practice game. The best defenders were on one side and the strongest attackers on the other. The Blue Bibs featured 9
Khalid, Shabab’s inspirational captain, his trusty defensive partner Yunus and Hasan, goalkeeper extraordinaire. The problem was, hardly any of the Blues had touched the ball yet. ‘Is the ball glued to his foot?’ asked Ismail, as Amir waltzed through the blue defence, before drawing Hasan from his goal, and slotted the ball perfectly between his legs. ‘Er, no,’ observed Faris, with grudging admiration. ‘Come on, Blues!’ called Coach Saleem, grasping another football in his hand. ‘Are you gonna get that ball off him, or do you want this one to play with?’ At Saleem’s side, Mr Zidane chuckled, his look of intense concentration relaxing momentarily. ‘We’re trying,’ grumbled Khalid through gritted teeth. Shabab’s captain enjoyed a challenge more than anyone, but he had spent the last fifteen minutes completely mesmerised by Amir’s bewildering array of skills, and was beginning to lose his cool. Realising this, he whispered a prayer and tried to think positively. ‘What’s the score, Coach?’ the Red’s captain Junayd asked his brother. Sensitive to the Blues’ predicament, Coach Saleem subtly held up five fingers on one hand and made a ‘zero’ with his thumb and forefinger on the other. He shrugged sympathetically. ‘Five-nil,’ stated Abdullah bluntly, looking up momentarily from the clipboard on which he was 10
frantically scribbling. ‘Mashallah,’ exclaimed Saleem. ‘Your son is extremely skilful, Mr Zidane.’ ‘Yes. We’ve worked very hard over the years. We’ve had a few professional scouts interested in us, but, well...’ Mr Zidane paused for a moment, ‘we just haven’t been offered the right deal, I suppose.’ Saleem was slightly surprised to hear Amir’s father refer to ‘us’, but he let it pass. ‘You know,’ he added, ‘we’ve got a tournament coming up in a few weeks. We won it last year. I’m guessing Amir would be up for that?’ ‘We’ll play,’ said Mr Zidane decisively. ‘We’ll be looking to make an impression. I expect there’ll be a few scouts there, at least. Hopefully we’ll catch their eye.’ Ibrahim had seen little of the ball, despite his role as striker on the Red team. Feeling somewhat redundant, he ambled over to the wing for a quick word with Ali. ‘This new kid,’ Ibrahim began, nodding his head in Amir’s direction, ‘he’s going to want to play in the Hilsham tournament, right?’ ‘Yeah man! Hope so!’ said Ali. ‘Yeah,’ muttered Ibrahim, as he strolled back towards Hasan’s goal. On the other side of the pitch Amir tricked his way past Yunus and then performed an astonishing rainbow flick over Khalid’s head, leaving the Shabab captain 11
bewildered. Amir hared around him to retain possession. As the Blues scurried back, drawn almost magnetically to Amir and the ball, Ibrahim suddenly found himself in a lot of space.
‘Pass!’ Ibrahim yelled. ‘Pass the ball, Amir! I’m open!’ Amir, one-on-one with Hasan, feinted to pass to Ibrahim, then dropped his shoulder to take the ball around the goalkeeper in the opposite direction. ‘Pass it!’ cried Ibrahim, desperate for a piece of the action. Surprised by Amir’s exquisite balance, Hasan had lost his own, but he recovered just in time to stretch out a hand as Amir, from a wide angle, chipped the ball over his head with a perfectly executed rabona. Hasan’s fingertips 12
did just enough to divert the ball on to the post, but it bounced out in Ibrahim’s direction, six yards from goal. Seeing his chance at last, Ibrahim lurched towards the ball, intending to strike it as hard as he could. He was going to burst the net and remind everyone that Amir wasn’t the only player capable of scoring some goals. He leaned back and hit it fiercely. The ball rocketed high over the crossbar and lodged in the branches of a horse chestnut tree, peeping out from behind some leaves. The boys gave a collective gasp of horror. Ibrahim didn’t notice Amir sniggering; he had buried his head in his hands. ‘Terrible shot!’ came a shout from the touchline. Ibrahim peeked through his fingers to see who was ridiculing him. ‘How did you miss that?’ demanded Mr Zidane. To Ibrahim’s surprise, the man did not seem to be looking at him. ‘Amir!’ shouted Mr Zidane. ‘I said, how did you miss that chance? The goalie was on the floor!’ Ibrahim turned to see Amir looking at his own feet. He looked hurt by his father’s comment. Ibrahim smiled at him sympathetically. ‘What have you got to smile about?’ snapped Amir angrily. ‘You enjoy destroying bird nests?’ Ibrahim shrugged, speechless. ‘OK, brothers,’ announced Coach Saleem diplomatically. ‘Let’s call it a day there. It’s nearly prayer time and 13
I’ve got an appointment with the Imam and Mr B after that. But first,’ he said, craning his head upwards, ‘I’ve got an appointment with a tree.’ ‘Tree-mendous,’ grinned Ali. ‘You’ll have a ball, Coach.’ *** ‘Come round to the side gate, friends,’ urged Mr Bateman from an upstairs window. ‘Let me show you how the garden’s coming along.’ Imam Munieb, Saleem and Junayd followed the short path to the garden gate. Once inside, Junayd closed the gate behind them. Junayd had been on his way home when Mr Bateman insisted he join the three men rather than trudge home by himself. Junayd felt bad. He remembered how Ibrahim had started salivating when Mr Bateman had mentioned cream tea earlier. It would have been just the tonic after his humiliation at the park, too. The Imam found himself looking at an explosion of large, papery green leaves. ‘Rhubarb!’ shouted Mr Bateman loudly from somewhere inside the conservatory. ‘Excuse me?’ asked Imam Munieb, wondering if his neighbour had trodden on a pin. ‘It’s rhubarb,’ repeated Saleem, confident that he had 14
heard correctly, though he had never seen it or eaten it in his life. ‘That’s right,’ said Mr Bateman, stepping into the garden. ‘Might be ready by next month. We can all celebrate with rhubarb crumble when the Victory Boys win the cup again, eh?’ ‘God willing!’ smiled the Imam. Mr Bateman turned to Saleem, his face bright with the eagerness and anticipation of a seasoned football fan. ‘How’s the team shaping up for this year, young man? I haven’t been to watch them practise for a while.’ ‘Not sure yet, Mr B,’ replied Saleem, scratching his chin thoughtfully. ‘All of the other teams have played a competitive season, of course – we’ve just had to make do with practice. But they’re good lads, y’know. Except this one,’ he teased, ruffling Junayd’s hair. ‘And this new boy, Amir… he’s a bit special.’ ‘New signing, eh?’ enthused Mr Bateman, his eyes lighting up. ‘How exciting! Transferred to Shabab al-Nasr for two million pounds just before the close of business? Lucky you were able to bring him in while the window was still open!’ joked Mr Bateman. Junayd grinned. ‘Window?’ queried the Imam. ‘No, he came through the front door…’ ‘Er, don’t worry my friend,’ said Mr Bateman, gesturing to a wooden bench. ‘Have a seat while I go and put some jam on those scones. Mind you,’ he added as he strolled 15
back to the conservatory, ‘If this Amir is that good, what will the poor lad say who ends up keeping the bench warm?’ Puzzled again, the Imam looked down at the wooden seat he was sitting on. It was left to Saleem to explain. ‘He means, what about the boy who loses his place in the team, Imam. To make way for Amir.’ ‘Don’t worry, Coach Saleem,’ smiled Imam Munieb. ‘Funnily enough, we had another lesson in school today about the hadith of our beloved Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, that you should love for your brother whatever you love for yourself. I think any of the boys will be OK if they end up heating the bench, as Mr Bateman said.’ Mr Bateman could hear everything from inside the kitchen. He raised an eyebrow and distractedly plopped a scoop of fresh cream inside the teapot. ‘Whoops,’ he said. Junayd remained quiet. He was looking down at the bench, lost in thought.
3 The Substitute
Sunlight flooded through the tall south-west windows in the school corridor and forced Ali to squint as he made his way towards Mr Rose’s classroom. Geography had never been one of Ali’s favourite subjects, but Year Nine was proving to be the best year for it. Mr Rose somehow managed to make the topics interesting, and it was the only lesson he shared with his friends, Junayd and Abdullah. As he entered the Geography classroom, it was not the tall and laidback Mr Rose who he found standing beside the whiteboard, but a rather nervous looking man with a scruffy black moustache. He smiled at Ali, who nodded back and murmured a quiet, ‘Hello Sir’. From the back of the room, Ali could hear the familiar sniggering of Mason, Conor and Mutib. He looked over 17
to his usual desk and found Junayd, Abdullah and their friend Karl smiling at him. ‘As-salamu ‘alaykum brothers,’ said Ali, as he wrapped the strap of his bag around a chair and sat down. Karl, for a long time, had been in the habit of responding to this greeting along with the Muslim boys, so none of them ever thought to say ‘hello’ when they saw him. ‘Wa ‘alaykum as-salam,’ replied his friends cheerfully. ‘Got some exciting news,’ said Junayd, trying to sound mysterious. ‘Guess what it is.’ ‘Ha! As if you can wait to tell us!’ laughed Ali, who knew that Junayd could never keep exciting news to himself. ‘Who’s the new teacher?’ he added, deliberately frustrating his friend by making him wait just a bit longer to reveal all. ‘I believe we’re about to be enlightened,’ said Abdullah, as the man began to write the word ‘Mr’ on the board. ‘Mr Ball!’ announced Mason from the back with an exaggerated chuckle. ‘His name’s Mr Ball!’ ‘Hey, when did you learn to read, Mase?’ smirked Conor, earning himself a thump on the arm. ‘Ouch!’ ‘Hey Sir, what’s your first name? Foot?’ chimed in Mutib. ‘Nah, it’s Beach!’ sniggered Conor, rubbing his arm, which was still throbbing. ‘Oh dear,’ announced Abdullah. ‘It’s going to be one of those lessons.’ 18
‘If I could have your attention, please,’ said Mr Ball nervously. ‘If I could have your attention please!’ mimicked Mason. ‘Yes, that’s what I said,’ continued Mr Ball, looking rather cross and somewhat flustered. ‘Yes, that’s what I said,’ repeated Mutib from behind his hand. Ali turned round and rolled his eyes at the three class clowns, wishing Mr Rose were here. He never had such problems, even with troublemakers. Ali wanted to say something, but it was difficult, treading a line between doing the right thing and being seen as the ‘teacher’s pet’. ‘All right you lot,’ he said, trying to sound casual and unruffled, ‘Save your comedy routine for “Britain’s Got No Talent”, yeah?’ He winked for good measure, so they would know he wasn’t showing them any serious disrespect. ‘Well, you’d know all about that, scally Ali,’ growled Mutib, but the others only pulled faces. They couldn’t say much about talent to the most skilful footballer in Year Nine. Grateful for silence at last, Mr Ball opened his mouth to speak again. At that moment, the classroom door swung open and Ali saw a face he knew, but couldn’t name. Abdullah did it for him. ‘Amir Zidane!’ Amir looked over. He recognised Abdullah, who had 19
come to him after football and congratulated him on ‘39 completed dribbles, an individual Sunday Practice record’. He nodded to Abdullah then saw the two boys next to him. They looked familiar too. He realised that one of them was the football coach’s brother, so he made up his mind to sit with them, for today at least. ‘And you are?’ enquired Mr Ball, trying to sound more assertive than previously. Amir pointed nonchalantly at Abdullah. ‘Like he said. Amir Zidane.’ He took a seat, nodding coolly at Mason and his friends before he did so. Mason nodded back and the others followed his lead, though they were suspicious of his connection to Ali and his friends. ‘Why’s he sitting with that lot?’ said Mutib disapprovingly, loud enough for them to hear. ‘Amir. Sounds Islamish. Must be a Muslim thing,’ suggested Conor. ‘Uh? I’m Muslim,’ protested Mutib, watching Abdullah as he flicked through his lesson notes from the previous week. ‘But you wouldn’t catch me sitting with Geek of the Week.’ Mason and Conor chuckled. This time Ali pretended that he hadn’t heard. Geography was the last lesson of the day, and the boys were relieved when it was over. ‘I hope Mr Rose is going to be back next lesson,” 20
moaned Junayd. ‘I don’t like substitute teachers.’ ‘What was your last school like?’ Ali asked Amir. ‘School’s school,’ replied Amir dismissively. ‘I’m guessing you were in the school football team though, right?’ asked Junayd. ‘Course, man!’ said Amir, suddenly animated. ‘We had a great team. Won the district cup for the last two years.’ ‘D’you play striker?’ asked Ali. ‘Nah, midfield. Could’ve played striker but we had two guys up front from Premier League academies, so the teacher picked them. I was better than them though. They were just lucky to get spotted. Besides,’ added Amir, ‘I like midfield – like to get some tough tackles in.’ ‘Oh, right,’ said Junayd, contemplating who would have to make way for him. ‘Midfield?’ he repeated, with a sudden dryness in his throat. ‘I didn’t know you played… there.’ ‘I can play anywhere. I could even play in goal. Probably better than that goalie on the Blue team yesterday.’ ‘Better than Hasan?’ snorted Abdullah. ‘Unlikely!’ ‘What would you know?’ demanded Amir, his eyes narrowing. ‘Being “King of the Clipboard” doesn’t mean anything. You ever kicked a football in your life?’ ‘Yes,’ answered Abdullah truthfully. ‘My first…’ ‘He’s not dissing you,’ Ali intervened, anticipating that Abdullah might be about to share some statistics on his personal footballing history. ‘It’s just that Hasan has been 21
a brilliant goalie for us. He’s a hard act to follow, you know.’ ‘Hmmph,’ scoffed Amir doubtfully. ‘Anyway, this is boring. I’m going. Laters.’ ‘See you late…’ Ali began. ‘Oh, wait!’ cried Junayd suddenly. ‘I completely forgot!’ ‘What?’ asked Ali. ‘Whitehaven! Football match! This Sunday! There’s a match! Practice for the Hilsham tournament. This Sunday! We’re playing! In a match! On Sunday!’ ‘I think we may infer,’ said Abdullah calmly, ‘that there is a match on Sunday, against Whitehaven, by way of preparation for the Hilsham tournament.’ Amir looked contemplative for a moment. ‘Hmm. Interesting. I wonder where the coach is going to play me. I guess we’ll find out on Sunday.’ He walked away, leaving the boys alone with their thoughts.