When Rachid Mekhloufi took the struggle for Algerian independence to the pitch

By Shireen Ahmed

In April 1958, Rachid Mekhloufi, the great St. Etienne striker was 21 years old. Mekhloufi along with nine other players, left their careers in France and returned to Tunis to comprise the first FLN squad. They were playing for a country that did not yet exist. Algeria was in the beginnings of an uprising against its’ colonizer France. Their move would be analyzed, critiqued and applauded by many.

“For me personally, the page was turned because I knew I could never play for France or St. Etienne again” - Mekhloufi

Mekhloufi left France and continued to travel and play against other team in North Africa and abroad. France tried to intervene by requesting that FIFA adhere a status of non-recognition to the FLN squad and disallow such matches. FIFA was only able to implement such restrictions in certain countries.

FLN won over 65 matches in four years and their success meant that the silent and powerful gesture of voluntarily leaving Les Blues could not be ignored. Millions in France who supported the players suddenly became aware of the determination of the FNL squad to see an independent Algeria.

But it was also an intense gamble. The situation in Algeria became worse and there were countless deaths and many of the players still had family in France.

The players persevered and were able to delight their fans and their countryfolk. The FLN propelled a campaign of pro-independence through their majesty on the pitch. Without taking up arms they were able to show the highest form of nationalistic pride, using a football.

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