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In the cab

By Jonathan Feldman

For the big matches, he dons his brown tunic and red Fez cap, strikes a chord from his lute like he's Jimmy Hendrix and spins his body like a top. Meet Queens cab driver Ali Essebae - New York's most passionate soccer fan.

From 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. the former Cairo native drives a yellow cab for Checker garage on Jackson avenue. But on important match days - he stays glued to the TV or to a stadium seat if he can find a ticket. "I love football. I go to every game that I can."

We relaxed with Ali at an Egyptian cafe on Steinway Street in Queens. In the middle of our interview and photoshoot, Essebae broke out his rendition of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". He didn't know the words. But it didn't matter. Patrons enjoyed his music as they smoked cherry and hibiscus flavored tobacco and played dominoes.

We sip lemonade and talk football. Platina, Zoff, Francescoli - Ali knows it all. In his youth he was a goalkeeper with an anateur side the Cairo suburb of Mehalla Elkobra Kysaria. After he graduated from secondary school, he taught biology for 15 years in the same town. Later he moved to Cairo where he studied lute at the Institute of Music. To earn some spare cash, he became a singer/comedian in the Cairo vaudeville circuit. He even hit the recording studio, where he caught his big break.


NYC's most passionate soccer fan is a cab driver from Queens.

Ali composed a song about the Egyptian National Team, which had just qualified for the 1990 World Cup. The song became a radio hit and the team invited Ali to Italia '90. He had a taste of big time football and was hooked. Since 1990 he has attended four world Cup tournaments, five african cup of Nations tournaments, two Confederations cups, three Olympic tournaments, several European Championships, the Kuwait gulf cup, and last year's U17 tournament in Dubai. And he as the photos to prove it.

Ali proudly shows clippings from newspapers across the globe. A Japanese tabloid wrote about him at the 2002 World Cup, and Ali was the subject of a recent cover story in a Kuwaiti magazine.

Ali tells us about the time he met several members of the Senegal national team at the 2002 World Cup. "I was staying at the same hotel as Senegal. I was playing the lute in the lobby and El Hadj Diof and some of the other players came down and started dancing. It was amazing."

Ali would be happier if he could pass his U.S. citizenship test later this year. Then he could bring his wife and son the States from Cairo. "I'd like to bring them over soon. I'd love to go to the Olympics too. But this is America, everything should be ready."



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