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It’s full-time at Dalymount Park and the message of solidarity is clear, as – through a combination of sprints, walks, dances and the odd hobble – the women’s sides of Bohemians and Palestine, united by a cause, make their way around the terraces, acknowledging the crowd and taking in a historic moment as a Palestinian national team compete on European soil for the very first time – Football the briefest of respites from the conflicts of war.

An image of the outside of a football stadium

At the invitation of their Dublin-based hosts, and after months of logistical problem-solving, Palestine’s players took to the pitch on the 76th anniversary of the Nakba (translated to The Catastrophe), an event that saw over 750,000 Palestinian Arabs geographically, physically and spiritually displaced and at a time where thousands more are being so once again.

Whilst players from the West Bank and occupied territories make up the bulk of the visiting squad, representatives from a diaspora spread across Germany, Canada and beyond have also navigated their way to the Irish capital. Medical students, NGO workers, sisters, daughters and descendants of Nakba survivors came together and were welcomed as superstars at Dublin Airport’s arrival doors as a tour of the Emerald Isle began.

A thirty-five-strong delegation donned ponchos as they explored the rural beauty of Glendalough in the summer rain before being hosted by students at Trinity College, taking part in an impromptu kickabout along the way. On the morning of the match, they broke bread with the Lord Mayor of Dublin and interviewed players, each sharing their own unique story, which would populate the daily papers.

This would not be the first time Bohs had shown their solidarity with the Palestinian cause. As recently as February 2023, a kit inspired by the Palestinian flag would be put on sale with a portion of each sale making its way to children on the front line.

That kit would be worn by the home side and seen across the terraces of Dalymount; as would an eclectic wardrobe of club kits and homemade tributes; threading together Irish and Palestinian colours with messages of both protest and peace.

This was as much a cultural celebration as it was a football match. The cover of the official programme merges Dublin-themed iconography with that of the watermelon, a Palestinian symbol of protest that has begun to penetrate the worlds of art and fashion. As has the keffiyeh, a scarf seen wrapped around the necks of many as Palestinian flags fluttered and waved across a warm blue sky. 

Nourishment would not come from burgers and pies but instead from Palestinian food stalls at either end of the main stand while memorabilia and team photos would do a roaring trade as kick-off approached.

At a ground where murals cover nearly every wall, the final brushstroke on Dalymount’s newest addition has just been completed, that of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old killed in Gaza during the brutality of war, another tragedy at a time where each day seems to bring another.

The atmosphere is friendly and in many ways, the build-up is just like any other matchday but there is also defiance in the air and while Bohemians may be the hosts the terraces have a cosmopolitan feel. 

Irish President Michael Higgins is in attendance. Singer Mary Black steps in for Christy Moore to lead a half-time sing-along before DJs Annie Mac & Toddla T perform a post-game set in one of the stadium bars, the photos that populate social streams the next day show that togetherness had provided the predominant beat.

With passion, the anthems are sung and then the football begins but on this night it is nothing more than a conduit. 

For the record, Palestine won, 2-1 with Nour Youseef the matchwinner. Her celebrations, an uncontrollable outpouring of emotion, hurtling across the pitch in every direction imaginable, eventually wrapped up in the arms of her teammates in front of a sold-out crowd.

This game could have been sold many times over and it is expected that close to €100,000 will be raised for charities whose work directly supports the lives of Palestinian children currently at the heart of a humanitarian crisis. There are ambitions for a return fixture, that the stadiums and facilities destroyed or made uninhabitable for play will be rebuilt, and that Palestine will be able to welcome visitors to their home.

As the players circle the pitch one more time I find myself reflecting on the power of football. Soon they, the staff and supporters of Palestine will return to the continuing and unfathomable traumas of war as casualties continue to tally on both sides. But in this moment there are smiles and dancing; a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this game has made a difference.

The urgent hope has to be for peace. When that will come feels increasingly impossible to say, but on this night, and for a moment at least, those representing Palestine were able to breathe in a sense of freedom.

Football players celebrate on the filed of play.

Flags are being waved and a footballer runs across the footbal pitch also waving a flag.

Football players gather on the football pitch

All words and images by Chris Marshall.

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