Abdelhak Nouri, AFC Ajax, and the power of Hope
Five months and a few days back, on the 8th of July, 2017, Abdelhak Nouri fell to the ground while playing a friendly for his boyhood club, AFC Ajax, against Werder Bremen. While the incident looked pretty innocuous at first, he soon lapsed into unconsciousness, slipping into a cardiac arrest that starved his brain of blood for long enough to cause serious, permanent damage to the organ.
When Appie - as he was known to those who loved him - collapsed, when he slipped further and further away from us... it hit a bit too close to home, and so when I hammered at my keyboard - Abdelhak Nouri: Will you remember me? - I was sad, bitter, and incredibly angry at a Universe that didn't seem to give a flying fuck about anything, at a Life that seemed unnecessarily, wantonly, cruel... at the sheer powerlessness of our existence.
When my wife read the piece, the only thing she asked me was "did you think of what Nouri's family or friends would have thought of it if they ever read it?" and the truthful answer to that was that I hadn't.
At the time, I didn't care. I was beyond it. I had given up hope, I had begun to hate the Powers that be... and the snuffing of the incredible potential of this lad had pushed me over the edge. I took out my frustration and my sense of helplessness by lashing out at the World and I used Nouri for it.
I am sorry, Appie.
Thank you, though, for helping me understand why I was so wrong to do so.
You see, over the past five months, Nouri, his family, AFC Ajax, and Amsterdam have shown where I went wrong...
Modern football has too easily slipped into the causal excesses of capitalism, footballers far too disconnected from the society they live in, clubs that are merely big businesses run by bigger businessmen who care about naught other than the numbers that come at the end of their financial statements, fans that only care about transfers and trophies... but over the past five months, Ajax - and the Netherlands - have shown that there still exists, if you look hard enough, Good in the world.
Ajax are a reminder of what a football club should stand for, of how it should resonate with the society that first gave it birth, of how it should be about so much more than just mere football.
They remind us of this every time they talk -- ever so lovingly - about Nouri, when the fans unfurl tifos that salute the youngster they so loved, when the ArenA rings out with spontaneous cries of "Wij Willen Nouri Zien (We want to see Nouri)" and it's heartening to see the institution's continued support for the Nouri family at a time when the tug on the purse strings can be just as heavy as it is on strings far more intangible.
Amsterdam, and the Dutch, are a reminder of what people can be when they are unified under an umbrella of hope - how good man can be. Sometimes it doesn't take a great political movement or a great orator, or a common enemy to bring people together... sometimes all that is needed is a 20-year-old who is kind, humble, talented, and always in touch with what was happening around him.
If an entire city - an entire nation - can come together to pray for the well-being of a young man, if people can fly in from across the world to wish the family of someone they had never met, but had inspired them in some strange, unique, way, well and to convey their prayers, if a Feyenoord fan can walk into a hospital with flowers and name and squad number of player from the rival team printed on the back of the Rotterdam club's jersey...
Nothing unites like hatred? Try love - and hope - you cynical bastards.
Hope is a glorious drug.
While several doctors and experts have made it clear that even if one day Nouri were to regain function of his brain, he would not be able to walk, talk, move - to do any of the things we take for granted - on his own, the hope that Nouri's family has fostered within themselves, the hope that Amsterdam, Ajax, Netherlands. - and indeed the whole world - has helped maintain, remains strong and they've made it clear they will keep fighting, keep getting second opinions, keep hoping.
Yesterday, he rejected a keyboard the doctors thrust into his hands as a part of a neuro-activity test, but when a football was offered, he took it, he embraced it... and he did it with a smile.
Sodding beautiful, isn't it?
One day I will be able to fully understand what happened to me, one day I will be able to fully embrace those memories... but until that day I will keep trying to stop the negativity that is so easily within my reach, to stop poisoning my view of the Universe. These days when the memories that made me write such an angry piece float into my consciousness, uncalled for, unexpectedly, they are accompanied by short bursts of that violent concoction of anger, sadness and pure hatred for everything and everyone... but as Nouri and his family have taught me, like Ajax have shown me, that helps no one.
For all of you out there fighting your own battles, there is nothing I can say that will put your heart to ease, I know that because I've experienced it, but sometimes hope and a powerful message can come from the most unexpected of quarters...
There was an incredible piece on Nouri in the Guardian a few days back, Stuart James walking around Amsterdam talking to his family, to his friends, his teachers... I will not do him the disservice of simply lifting quotes from it, but if you've opted against clicking on that link, I hope James will forgive me for inking down arguably the most powerful statement in the whole piece...
“Being angry doesn’t help,” Abderrahim Nouri, the eldest of the seven Nouri brothers, told James. “Being sad doesn’t help. Crying all day doesn’t help. Being positive helps. Praying for him helps. When I’m next to his bed, talking with him, saying good things to him, those things help."Never forget the power of love.
Whether they are with you or not, whether they are in this world or the next, do not stop loving them, as Ajax, as Amsterdam, as the Nouri family have shown us... there's always hope for the loved.
Appie - Stay strong, we pray for you, we are with you.
We... I... will not forget you.
P.S. Spare nine minutes for this... you don't need to support Ajax, you don't need to understand Dutch, or Arabic, to understand Abdelhak Nouri.