Report from Bohemian FC vs Palestine, 15th May 2024 in Dalymount Park

Formal recognition by Ireland of the Palestinian state is expected to happen before the end of the month. 

To all intents and purposes, it occurred at Dalymount Park in Dublin on Wednesday, May 15. 

The first game of a Palestinian national team on European soil was always going to be heavy in symbolism. 

The fact that it took place on Nakba Day – marking the original displacement of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 – added another layer of meaning. 

On the pitch, the Palestinian women came from a goal down to defeat Bohemians 2-1. Never have goals scored by a visiting side been celebrated so raucously by the majority of the crowd. 

But, although the full-blooded nature of some of the tackles might have suggested otherwise, the football was secondary. 

This was an evening of both celebration and defiance. As the daylight faded, the adjacent brutalist Phibsborough Tower had “Free Gaza” projected onto its wall. 

Each of the near-capacity crowd of 4,390 – with many more buying non-attendance tickets – was provided with a Palestinian flag, courtesy of sponsors Connolly Books and Bang Bang Café. 

They were waved enthusiastically by members of the diaspora and locals keen to show solidarity in whatever way they could. 

Food stalls sold Palestinian cuisine with music, singing and dancing breaking out spontaneously in the stands. 

Before kick-off Irish-Palestinian singer Roisin El Cherif sang the visitors’ national anthem with Radie Peat – of Lankum and ØXN – providing the rendition of “Amhrán na bhFiann”. 

Although not playing against their Irish counterparts, the formalities placed Palestine on an equal footing, in the presence of President Michael D. Higgins. 

Earlier, the teams had taken to the pitch with “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles being played over the speakers. It set the tone for the night which went on into the small hours with DJs AnnieMac and Toddla T performing in the bars underneath the Jodi Stand. 

The occasion was almost too much for goalkeeper Charlotte Phiilips who is from Toronto, Canada. She donned the Palestinian colours watched on by her grandparents George and Odette Dabit. 

Speaking after the final whistle, she said: “I don’t even know how to describe how it was out there. I cried three times out on the field. 

“They travelled here from Canada, they’re actually Nakba and Naksa survivors, Nakba in 1948 and Naksa in 1967. I’m so happy that they’re here, travelling here on Nakba Day. 

“When they expelled them for the first and second time, they thought they would erase us as Palestinians and here 76 years later I’m here playing as their granddaughter as part of the Palestinian national team. 

“They thought they could get rid of us and they can’t. This is proof of our existence. 

“They have shown me to be myself, be kind, that’s who we are as Palestinians. We’re resilient, we’re kind and we know how to overcome obstacles. We’re so proud of being Palestinians.” 

Her grandfather added: “We would like to thank Ireland. Nobody did what Ireland has done for us, not even Arab countries.” 

Her grandmother concurred. She said: “The Irish people are so warm. Every time someone says something to me I just want to cry because we’ve never seen this in our lives, never.” 

Having regained her composure, a tearful Phillips said: “Up the Bohs, that’s all I can say.” 

The feeling was mutual with the club’s under-14 team – who were ball girls for the evening – hugely appreciative of the warmth shown to them by the visitors. 

Bohs – a members club founded in 1890 – had aligned themselves with the Palestinian cause prior to the Israeli response to the Hamas attacks of October 7. 

For 2023 – the League of Ireland season runs from February to November – their alternate shirt incorporated the Palestine colours with 10 percent of the proceeds from sales going to Sport for Life Palestine, to help support children in the city of Tulkarem in the West Bank. 

Plans for the club to send coaches and players to Palestine have been postponed but not cancelled with showcasing the national team chosen as an alternative to show support. 

The club’s chief operating officer Daniel Lambert said: “Given what’s been happening, we should invite the Palestinian National Team. We knew they’d never played here. 

“When we went to meet the Ambassador here we suggested the women’s team. She thought it was a brilliant idea and that’s how the game came about.” 

The travelling party arrived in Ireland on Sunday May 12 and were received by President Higgins at his residence Áras an Uachtaráin as well as at the Mansion House by Dublin’s Lord Mayor Daithí de Róiste. 

When they travelled to Dalymount for a media event on Tuesday, they got a small sense of what to expect the following night. 

The Palestinian flag is painted on a garage door on the lane behind the Jodi Stand. 

It was included in a new mural pitchside on the Connaught Street side on one side of a woman in a headscarf with the Irish tricolour on the other. 

And the tattered cloth on top of the derelict Shandon Mill beside the Royal Canal had been replaced by a new one, with the red triangle and black, white and green horizontal stripes flutter against the backdrop of a blue sky. 

Team manager Deema Said said: “We’ve seen our flag here more than we’d see in Palestine as we’re not allowed to show as many flags. 

“We know about the Irish/Palestinian solidarity, we studied the history, at the same time it’s a different feel to see it with your own eyes. We have seen nothing but love from the Irish people.” 

Dima Abdeen, the second youngest in the squad at 17, who played the game with a hijab bearing the Nike swoosh emblem, added: ”The Irish people have shown us an overwhelming amount of love; people have been stopping us, giving us presents and gifts.” 

Said, from Ramallah, is a former national team captain who decided to retire at the outbreak of the war, unable mentally, she said, to continue playing in the circumstances, but keen to remain involved. 

In any case, sport in Palestine is suspended for obvious reasons with this invitation eagerly accepted. 

The Head of the Palestinian FA Jibril Rajoub said: “To come and play to mark the 76th anniversary of our Nakba, is proof of our determination, commitment, steadfastness and also to convey a message to Europe that it is time to raise a red card to Israel. 

“We are not going to raise a white flag. We will not give up, we will not surrender and we will not leave Palestine.” 

Rajoub – a prominent member of Fatah who has spent 17 years of his 71 years in Israeli jails – added: ”I am very proud of the legacy of the common issues that we have with your people. 

“I was inspired by a meeting with your President, who is a symbol of this, and his experience and his contribution and the solidarity with your people is encouraging us not to give up. 

“I hope also over the next few days that the Irish people will lead Europe by recognising the Palestinian state.”