A life on the run for footballer refugee

08 June 2010

Seeds of Success

Hussein Deeb

Damascus, May 2010

Hussein Deeb on football pitch

Hussein Deeb‘s life has been one of struggle both on and off the field, as the child of refugees who had to flee from their native Palestine. They eventually established themselves in Syria, unable to return. For Deeb, his whole life has been "on the run", even if it is only to score one of the many goals he is famous for.

"I guess my love for the game and my ability to follow the ball came from the womb," he says before bursting into laughter. His mother was pregnant with him when she was forced to abandon her homeland in 1967 and become a perennial refugee.

He says: "That was an event that undoubtedly marked me for life. Being a Palestinian refugee is something I am proud of not only because it has made me strong and provided me with an unbreakable will, but also because it gives me a cause and a course in life, that of constant improvement. It inspires me to score more goals, both as a person and as a football player.

Inspirational example

All over Syria Hussein Deeb is a well known figure, an example that many children and young people aspire to. Since quitting the game in the late 1990s, he has run a football clinic for boys who dream of being the next Cristiano Ronaldo.

Every afternoon in a sports centre on the outskirts of Damascus, a bunch of enthusiastic teenagers follow Deeb’s strict training. "He is a great coach, I feel proud of being part of this," says Ali, an eight-year-old who, like most of the participants, is a Palestine refugee.

Fitness and economic background are no barriers to joining Deeb’s training; his only condition is that the children attend school. He says: "Sports are fundamental for children and young people, but they have to come alongside education otherwise the outcome will not be as comprehensive as it could."

Remarkable victory

His leadership qualities were first seen by a wide audience more than 20 years ago, when Deeb led the Syrian football team at the 1987 Mediterranean Games in Latakia. Syria’s remarkable 2-1 victory over the French to win gold is still a highlight of Syrian football, and something for which Deeb is still revered in his host country and that maintains his high spirits.

Nevertheless, for him, the real triumph still lies ahead. "I wish I could one day go to Palestine and watch our national football team together again and playing to the cheering crowd," he says. "That is something I am willing to score as many goals as needed to attain."

Text and photographs by Diego Gomez-Pickering

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