On The Ball, Syria! Fans' collect City kit for far-flung fan group

Ali Zartit and Ahed Zartit who founded Syrian Canaries.

Ali Zartit and Ahed Zartit who founded Syrian Canaries. - Credit: Canaries Trust

Despite an ongoing civil war, a 600-strong group of Norwich City fans in Syria are following the Canaries' fortunes from almost 3,000 miles away.

The Syrian Canaries, based in Latakia City, have been following the team's fortunes since 2019, when a group of fans fell in love with Norwich City while watching their now famous 3-2 win over Manchester City.

However, due to the country's closed borders causing difficulties with international trade, the group have never got their hands on the Canaries' shirt.

The current package of shirts collected by Alistair Steward and the Canaries Trust.

The current package of shirts collected by Alistair Steward and the Canaries Trust. - Credit: Alistair Steward

Ali Zartit, who runs the group's Facebook page said following the team provided a welcome distraction from "hard times" in the country.

He said: "When we first saw Norwich, it was against Manchester City, when Norwich won 3-2.

"After that I started looking for more about this club and watching its matches one by one, by then I liked the club so much and thought I'd share it with all the fans here.

"I founded the Norwich City fans association in Syria, which has gained popularity since its inception.

The Syrian Canaries flag has been displayed at home matches by Canaries Trust members.

The Syrian Canaries flag has been displayed at home matches by Canaries Trust members. - Credit: Syrian Canaries

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"One of our goals is to introduce the Syrian public to Norwich and change the stereotyped image of supporting the big clubs and now we are gradually growing up and increasing our numbers.

Ali Zartit and Ahed Zartit who founded Syrian Canaries.

Ali Zartit and Ahed Zartit who founded Syrian Canaries. - Credit: Canaries Trust

"Norwich makes us forget the hard times here.

"In the Championship, it was very difficult to watch the team as we cannot buy anything online or subscribe to websites.

Ali Zartit, founder of Syrian Canaries.

Ali Zartit, founder of Syrian Canaries. - Credit: Ali Zartit

"But in the Premier League, there is more interest in terms of television transmission, so things are a little easier."

Their call for kit was answered by Alistair Steward, a board member of the Canaries Trust, with which the Syrian Canaries are affiliated.

He has already collected 50 items of Norwich City kit from shirts to flip-flops and hopes to gain more as the Shirts for Syria campaign begins.

Alistair Steward of the Canaries Trust, who has been collecting Canaries kit for Syrian supporters.

Alistair Steward of the Canaries Trust, who has been collecting Canaries kit for Syrian supporters. - Credit: Canaries Trust

Trust members will be collecting at the home game against Crystal Palace on Wednesday, February 9, with a collection also planned for the home game against Manchester City on Saturday, February 12.

Trust members will be taking donations 90 minutes before kick-off until 15 minutes before kick-off outside the Regency Security Stand and the South Stand.

Mr Steward said: "They're a good sized group and they are genuine, proper fans, they're not fly by night, they support and care for the club.

"Obviously over there things are in a horrific state, so that's why we decided to try and get Norwich City clothing donated.

"If it's clean and it's got the club crest on it we want it.

The Canaries Trust's Shirts For Syria Campaign logo.

The Canaries Trust's Shirts For Syria Campaign logo. - Credit: Canaries Trust

"We've been getting in touch with aid agencies in to get the merchandise into Syria.

"It's great to see Canaries fans across the world, that is partly the pull of the Premier League.

Football in Syria

While not one of game's biggest names, Syria is a football-mad country which has been playing the game for more than 85 years, with its football federation founded in Damascus in 1936.

Although the men's national team, currently ranked the world's 86th best out of 210, has not played at the World Cup, it has made four appearances at the Asia Cup, the Asian equivalent of the European Championship.

For many years there was no official women's football leagues or teams in Syria, however, as of 2006 the Syrian Women's Football League is contested by seven teams and the women's national team played its first official match in 2018.

The country's biggest football achievement was when one of its club sides, Al-Jaish, won the 2004 Asian Cup, the Asian equivalent of the Europa League.