Moroccan giants Wydad celebrate 83rd anniversary

Morocco’s most successful football club Wydad Athletic Club are marking the 83rd anniversary of their existence
Wydad’s team poses before the Mohammed VI Champion cup match between Morocco’s Wydad Athletic Club and Morocco’s Raja Club Atletic on November 2, 2019 in Casablanca. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Morocco’s most successful football club Wydad Athletic Club are marking the 83rd anniversary of their existence.

The origins of its creation are synonymous with its multi-disciplinary leaning. When Morocco was still under French colonial rule, the port city of Casablanca was full of swimming pools but access to them was controlled by the colonial administration. However, from the 1935–36 season, several native Moroccans were allowed to enjoy the swimming pools.

But when the number of natives coming to the clubs grew rapidly and began to outnumber the French, the authorities limited access once again. The idea of a club strictly for Moroccans was floated and after the request was severally denied it was finally approved and Wydad Athletic Club was formed on 8 May 1939. Today the club also fields teams in basketball, fencing, hockey, handball, table tennis, water polo and wrestling.

The origin of the name Wydad is widely debated and unknown to this day but historian Ahmed Lahrizi claims when the first meeting of the first committee of Wydad was held, one of the founding members arrived late after watching the latest film of the legendary Egyptian actress and singer Umm Kulthum entitled Wydad and so the name of the first Moroccan social club in history was called Wydad Athletic Club.

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The first section of the club was that of water-polo and after a proposal by the first President, Mohamed Benjelloun, it was decided to set up several other sections and so the football section Wydad was created in 1939. It played its first match in September of the same year against reigning Moroccan champions USM Casablanca in a match that ended in a 2-1 defeat.

It took Wydad more than nine years of its first few years of existence before it finally won it’s first league title in 1948, winning another four before Moroccan independence in 1956. Before then it had reached the final of the Moroccan Throne Cup in 1940, 1943 and 1946 and won the Supercoupe du Maroc twice in 1940 and 1946.

Today, Wydad is the most decorated football club in Morocco with 20 league titles, 9 Moroccan Throne Cups, 2 CAF Champions League titles, 1 African Cup Winners Cup, 1 CAF Super Cup and 1 Afro-Asian Cup title amongst others.

For almost a century Wydad Athletic Club has embodied the struggle of the Moroccan people against French occupation. Unlike other clubs that existed during colonial rule like Racing Casablanca or Union Sportive Marocaine (USM) Casablanca which paraded French expatriates, Wydad was comprised mostly of Moroccan footballers and was thus regarded as a national symbol of the Moroccan nationalist movement wherever it played.

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In a North African Cup game in neighboring Algeria, another French colony, the Wydad players refused to play because the Moroccan flag was not hoisted next to the French one. The match did not start until the organizers decided to raise the flag of Morocco next to the French tricolor.

Wydad’s victories over teams owned by the French colonials like USM Casablanca were celebrated as a national holiday by all Moroccans. The then crown Prince to the throne of the Kingdom of Morocco, Hassan II was the main supporter of the team and did not hesitate during half time of matches to visit the locker room to encourage the players of Wydad, who he considered “Moroccan troops”.

Wydad is one of the most popular teams in Africa and the world, with a fan base counted in millions all around the world. The team has also produced legendary players like Badou Zaki, the only Moroccan, Arab and African goalkeeper to be crowned African Footballer of The Year, an award he won in 1986. He would go on to manage the team on no less than four different occasions.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the League in Morocco, Wydad were topping the league by a single point ahead of FUS Rabat, although with 2 games in hand. They had also qualified for the semi-final of the CAF Champions League where they were drawn against Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly.

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