Mohamud Ali: from Manchester’s roads to football history with Somalia

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A hot night in Djibouti City, 5 September, and Mohamud Ali is in disbelief at having just written himself into Somalian history. The former £50-a-day factory worker was man of the match as his nation beat Zimbabwe 1-0 to record a first World Cup qualifier win.

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Ali is thousands of miles away from his home in Manchester, where he plays as a central defender for Curzon Ashton of the National League North and his day job is a driving instructor. But now the 25-year-old is a bona fide national hero.

Because of the political instability in Somalia, the Ocean Stars had to play the “home” leg of this Qatar World Cup 2022 first-round qualifier in neighbouring Djibouti’s El Hadj Hassan Gouled Aptidon Stadium.

The match was level until the 87th minute when Ahmed Ali, Mohamud’s brother and Somalia’s captain, floated a cross from the left and Anwar Shakunda headed past Elvis Chipezeze.

At the final whistle Ali and his teammates sank to the turf in contemplation of what they had achieved. Somalia had lost their previous 19 matches across eight years.

The sequence was broken with seven debutants against a side ranked 90 places higher who made the last Africa Cup of Nations finals, a competition in which Somalia are unable to participate because of their limited resources.

In a coffee house on Manchester’s Stretford Road, Ali’s eyes light up. “Before we weren’t thinking about our record, we were thinking about giving a good account of ourselves and get the win,” he says. “At the final whistle, that’s when we started to realise how big an achievement it was. I was celebrating on the pitch, me and my brother being able to celebrate together was amazing.

“Then going back to the hotel in the team bus with music playing, everyone dancing. As soon as you get to the hotel you turned the wifi on and the phone was booming. All night you’re speaking to family back home.” Ali believes Zimbabwe underestimated a young XI that was a mix of diaspora – a consequence of the troubles at home – and Somalia‑based players.

Ahmed Ail was then at Doha’s Pearl FC but is now back in Manchester and a free agent. The match-winner, Anwar, making his debut, is at Elman FC in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

Ali says: “We all just met there and then. Some of the players flew out one day or two days before the game. Some were there already there in the training camp in Djibouti.

We arrived at the stadium at the same time as Zimbabwe and could see by the way they were getting off the bus singing, dancing, that they were underestimating us.”

Ali’s journey began in the Netherlands after his family fled their country during the civil war that ran from 1991-2006. “My parents are Somalian but I was born and raised in Netherlands,” he says. “I’ve got two older siblings who were born in Somalia but there was a war going so we had to leave and we decided to go to Holland. I played there for a season semi-pro, made my first-team debut for Alphense Boys,” he says of the club located in Alphen aan den Rijn in the western Netherlands. “Then we came to Manchester seven years ago, when I was 18.”

XAYEYSIIN

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