Mohamed Maouche and the extraordinary story of the FLN football team

The quotes used in this article are semi-fictional based on numerous interviews with the people involved. All dates and events are factually correct.

In 1958, Mohamed Maouche – a talented striker recruited by the great Stade Reims side of the ’50s – had the world in the palm of his hands.

After making a seamless transition from AS Saint-Eugene in his native Algiers to the north of France, the 20 year-old netted four times in three matches on the way to a European Cup final in his debut campaign.

He was tall, muscular and carefree. He had an air of insouciance that was palpable, stemming from his unopposed success in all aspects of life. On the pitch, he duped the meanest of opponents with consummate ease.

In another era, Maouche could have been an Athenian Olympian or a Roman gladiator. He possessed a captivating marriage of charisma and conviction. The arrival of such a marketable asset soothed the concerns of the Reims fans who’d been fretting over the departure of star striker Raymond Kopa.

Yet a visit in late 1957 tore Maouche from his comfort zone and effectively ended his playing career. The guest was a former footballer: Mohamed Boumezrag, an attacking midfielder who’d enjoyed a respectable career in Africa and Europe. His grandfather, a politically active Imam, opposed the French colonising mission in North Africa. As a result Boumezrag would have to manage without much of his family, and the French government would have to manage with Boumezrag.

Boumezrag called on Maouche to join 11 other France-based footballers and create an Algerian national side, even though the country was still under occupation and not yet independent.

Some of the biggest names in French football – Rachid Mekhloufi of Saint-Etienne, Mustapha Zitouni of Monaco, Abdelaziz Ben Tifour of Nice and Said Brahimi of Toulouse – were prepared to toss aside their careers to join the Front Liberation Nationale football team. Considering the company he kept in Algiers, Maouche was always going to join them.

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Maouche hadn’t forgotten his memories of the long summers in the country’s capital. A decade ago he was the talk of the town, winning the Young Footballer Competition and being handed a professional contract by AS Saint-Eugene at the age of 17.

He bought a green Vespa with his first pay cheque. The bulky motorbike helped him whizz around the city. It was around that time he met l’émigré, who would hang around and ask him for favours.

“Mohamed, would you drop this parcel off for me downtown?”

Mohamed always obliged. He liked l’émigré, an older adolescent raised in Paris who could barely speak Arabic. One morning, l’émigré asked Mohamed to take a box of pastries to the Casbah. Having just completed an energy-sapping training session ahead of a derby against MC Algiers, Mohamed reluctantly accepted.

“Do not enter via Ketchaoua mosque,” l’émigré warned, before adding, “ride into downtown and then make a detour.” Mohamed thought the instructions were bizarre, but he didn’t ask questions.

The ride along the coast from Saint-Eugene to Algiers was always agreeable. Maouche slalomed between the eggshell convertibles that chugged up the boulevard. A burly policeman waved him in at the solitary checkpoint he had to pass. The officer continued to conduct traffic for a minute, before making his way over.

“Maouche!” He bellowed, extending a strong hand. “You’re not on the pitch, you can’t pass people like that!”

Maouche smiled and raised a hand in apology. “Sorry sir, I have some pastries to deliver to my grandmother.”

A chuckle escaped the officer’s lips. He smacked Maouche on the back, before asking, “Now, we’re going to beat that lot tomorrow, aren’t we?”

“Naturally!”

ASSE ran out 4-1 winners and a recruiter from France’s most successful outfit, Stade Reims, had an eye on the prodigious Maouche.

A fortnight later l’émigré was arrested for producing bomb carcasses for the FLN, but not before he’d given Maouche a piece of paper which contained his parents’ address in France.

“If you ever need anything while you’re playing out there, do look them up,” he said with a wink.

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Boumezrag didn’t have to ask Maouche twice when it came to joining the FLN team. Boumezrag then relayed simple instructions. All 12 players were to meet on 14 April 1958 at the train station in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Due to an organisational mix-up, Maouche was the only footballer of the 12 to be arrested on 13 April 1958 as he attempted to leave l’Hexagone. He was sentenced to 45 days in prison by a military tribunal and only returned to Reims thanks to the intercession of a French general who happened to support Stade Reims.

In prison, Maouche learned that l’emigre had been sentenced to death by guillotine, so he made a mental note to finally visit his friend’s family upon being freed. He also learned that the FLN team were touring the world, meeting the likes of Ho Chi Minh and flying the Algerian flag high.

After a month and a half in custody Maouche immediately contacted the FLN, who tasked him with finding a ‘second wave’ of players who could strengthen the team abroad.

There was still Mohamed Bouricha at Nimes (who was coached by the great Kader Firoud), the Bouchache brothers at Le Havre, Amokrane Oualiken at Montpellier and Abdelkrim Kerroum at Troyes. Each of these players could join the FLN team. Maouche just needed a way to contact them.

But before dedicating himself to football, Maouche fished out a crumpled slip of paper with l’emigré’s address scribbled on it, and got ready to pay his respects.

Maouche made the trip to pay his condolences one Friday evening. In the tall living room of an Haussmanian apartment, Maouche sat across from l’emigre’s’ parents, hands twined on a raised knee. After several awkward pauses, he caught a glimpse of Kadi, his friend’s little sister.

“Kadi, this is your brother’s friend, Mohamed. He’s also from Saint-Eugene.”

His eyes met hers and his mouth bent into a kind gaze. Kadi nodded curtly and muttered a formulated salutation, before excusing herself for the evening. She didn’t think much of the young man; after all, this type of encounter wasn’t uncommon at the Hamenad residence.

The Hamenads were a prominent Algerian family in the Parisian diaspora. Kadi’s father and grandfather were founding members of the PPA – Parti du Peuple Algerien, a precursor to the FLN, which was leading the armed resistance against France.

The PPA had now dissolved and most members integrated the FLN abroad, helping to regulate the legal status of combatants fleeing Algiers. Strangers streamed in and out of the cosy flat, discussing soft diplomacy, political prisoners and the violence back home.

Kadi naturally developed a penchant for armed resistance. But more than family influence, childhood memories are what inspired her revolutionary soul.

When she was 13, Kadi moved back to Algiers with her family. Initially she loved ‘coming home’. She was reunited with extended family, and her father’s beloved Algiers came to life.

Even her integration into the primary school on the Rue D’Isly seemed seamless. The secretary enrolled ‘Kadi from Paris’ in a class with delicate Pied-Noir girls. Yet when the headmaster learned that ‘Kadi’ was Khadidja and her family were revolutionaries, he humiliated her in front of her new friends and re-grouped her with the Arab children.

Paris felt different when Kadi returned years later. Her innocence had gone, and she resented the general population for their indifference to the pressure cooker south of the Mediterranean basin.

Proving herself adept with a typewriter, Kadi was assigned as le Maitre Abdellah’s assistant. Le Maitre Abdellah was the FLN’s most prominent and busiest lawyer, so what began as an apprenticeship quickly became a full-time job.

The 21-year-old felt she was making a substantive difference, and confirmation came from the consecutive police visits to her home – always menacing, middle-aged men who let you know you were being watched.

When Maouche came to visit her parents that Friday night, she’d assumed he was just another police officer. She gave a curt nod when she saw him, before retiring to her bedroom and not thinking much more about it.

A fortnight later le Maitre Abdellah escorted her home under the pretence of a threat. After a lengthy conversation with Mr. Hamenad, Kadi was called into the living room where Maouche had sat 14 days ago.

“Kadi, you have received orders from the Front,” her father said with a tired look. Her mother stood and walked to the kitchen. Kadi didn’t respond, choosing instead to stare at her father and forcing him to finish.

After a long silence, Maitre Abdellah addressed her directly. “You aren’t being asked to join the resistance in Algeria or here. Kadi, the Front wants you to join the footballers in Tunisia.”

For the first time, Kadi sat up and furrowed her brow. Why would the FLN need her in Tunisia with a group of footballers?

“As you know,” Maitre Abdellah continued, “there are a dozen footballers touring the world and playing for the Algerian flag. We are planning another exodus of players, led by your brother’s friend Mohamed Maouche.”

Kadi ruminated, trying to digest what her employer was telling her. She understood the gist of what was being said, but she couldn’t understand what her role was in the story.

“But why do the footballers need me to help them?” she finally asked, looking at her father and Maitre Abdellah.

The latter cleared his throat, stood up and buttoned his coat. He bid the Hamenads good night and showed himself out. Fearing she’d said something wrong, Kadi shot her father an apologetic look, but – to her surprise – he looked just as apologetic.

“Kadi…” he began, “your brother’s friend has asked for your hand in marriage.”

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For a nanosecond, Kadi had her breath taken away. Her mother popped her head in from the kitchen and then continued preparing dinner.

“The FLN support Maouche’s proposal,” Mr. Hamenad continued, “but the decision is yours. If you accept, you’ll leave France with the players and help the cause from Tunisia. The decision is yours…”

Kadi never returned to Maitre Abdellah’s office. Maouche visited the Hamenads after scoring a goal against Angers many months later. This time he came bearing gifts, and he seemed almost ashamed in front of Kadi.

Kadi studied the young militant. He wasn’t unattractive, but her sole focus was helping the cause. She wondered if he’d proposed only to help the FLN or if, in that brief interaction a few weeks ago, he’d really had a coup de foudre.

While Maouche and the FLN planned their escape, Kadi packed her most precious possessions in a large metallic footlocker. The newlyweds were to travel around France under the guise of honeymoon, while strategically recruiting players of Algerian origin. Their date of departure was set for October 1960.

On the fifth morning of October, Maouche appeared in a spanking new MG convertible. He opened the boot and Kadi threw in her suitcase, which seemed even larger than her.

Maouche didn’t open the door for her – and she was glad he didn’t. They reversed out of the driveway, before Maouche clunked the smooth sport car into first gear and the couple chugged westbound to Le Havre.

Without saying a word, Maouche punched the stereo, and Charles Anthony’s ‘Nouvelle Vague’ played.

“Nouuuu-velle vague

Nouuuu-velle vague

Une p’tite MG, trois comperes

Assis dans la bagnole sous un reverbere.”

Mohamed Maouche and the extraordinary story of the FLN football team
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