Over the Wall: A UK Football Team’s Journey into Egypt and Occupied Palestine

It begun with about 123 hours of footage, smuggled past suspicious border guards, and Jasper’s kitchen floor for a studio: “Terrible for our backs and postures,” Matthew explains. As the crowd disperses from the sold out cinema at the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation in London, I chat to the co-directors about their debut documentary ‘Over the Wall.’

Matthew Kay is a graduate of Film from Queen Mary’s in London and Jasper Kain studied Politics and Anthropology at SOAS. In the documentary they follow a lively British football team from the University of SOAS, London as they travel from Egypt and through Israel to become the first UK team to play in Palestine. The film is about far more than just football; it’s September 2011 and the Arab Spring is still fresh. The story begins in Cairo. The shots portray tanks and the smell of tear gas is in the air.

In another part of the city, a small wall circles a pitch but you can barely see it for children, screaming, jumping up and down and cheering for their team. In the distance a curl of smoke from a pile of burning rubbish twists into the sky, ignorant to the tumble of houses that surround it. The SOAS team are playing the residents of Cairo’s largest slum.

The team continue their journey to play a match in a Palestinian refugee camp and one overlooking the separation wall. As they travel through the occupied territories, shots of checkpoints and settlements do not escape the camera; it highlights the omnipresence of the occupation.

Matthew agrees: “It’s much more so than I thought it would be in terms of the settlements and how imposing and quite blatant they are and the strategic position of them.” Later, Jasper adds. “In the film we didn’t go out of our way to try and show this, for instance the scene where the players are just in their beds and then there’s the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] at the refugee camp. That’s a typical occurrence.”

In one scene of the film, as the camera captures a hot air balloon flying overhead, one of the players remarks that it is there to keep an eye on Palestinians. “The mainstream media in our country doesn’t do the situation any justice,” he says. Jasper explains that because the team were travelling just before Palestine’s UN statehood bid in 2011, amidst scuffles on the street in Palestine, he saw how the images really were, and how they were portrayed in the media. He describes one in the Guardian of a Palestinian holding a rock with a keffiyeh round his face. “What it didn’t depict, and we know this for a fact because we saw it, was an Israeli sniper facing back at him.”

The players don’t just travel through the playing fields; they embark on a visible, emotional political journey themselves. Or as Jasper puts it, change from being armchair activists to actually “doing stuff.”

Both directors are certain that the film can go some way towards contributing to change in the region, whether it’s smashing stereotypes such as ‘Palestinians are terrorists’ or inspiring people.

As our conversation comes to an end, it becomes clear how much the whole team, and the people they met, see their film as a mouthpiece, to help give the plight of the Palestinian people the attention it deserves.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Middle East Monitor