The First Time

  • Dates
    2018 - Ongoing
  • Author
  • Locations Qatar, North Macedonia, Iceland

“The First Time” is a long-term project by photographer Matteo de Mayda and journalist Cosimo Bizzarri aimed at exploring football and the way it shapes culture, politics and identity in nations who participate for the first time in a major international tournament.

The First Time consists of three instalments, which were realised in Iceland ahead of Russia 2018, in North Macedonia ahead of EURO 2020 and in Qatar ahead of Qatar 2022.

Each chapter works autonomously, but also as part of a large investigation about football in remote countries that we would like to turn into a book and an exhibition.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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A replica of the columns of the San Siro Stadium of Milan, in Italy, in front of Villagio Mall. Inside, the interiors are Italianate-themed both as an Italian hill town, but also with a 150-meter long indoor canal with gondolas. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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Taskeen, 25, born in Qatar from an Indian father and Qatari mother. She cheers for Qatar at the World Cup Cup, but her favorite national team is India. She poses for this portrait taken in the Qanat Quartier, modeled after the Italian city of Venice. Its buildings incorporate Venetian architectural elements and several canals run through the city. The site sponsoring the project says: “Venetian Charm Meets Arabian Chic”. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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Skopje (North Macedonia), May 2021 - F.K. Vardar fans, in front of Arena Toše Proeski, the stadium of the Macedonian national team. F.K. Vardar, a club popular with ethnic Macedonians, has a nationalist ultras’ group known as the “Komiti”, named after bands of rebels who resisted Ottoman rule. The Komiti’s most recent crusade was against the country’s name change, in 2019, from Macedonia to North Macedonia. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - COOL Football Club trains at the former home ground of FK Cementarnica 55, Skopje. North Macedonia, 2020.
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COOL Football Club trains at the former home ground of FK Cementarnica 55, Skopje. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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A North Macedonia supporter in the Macedonia Square. North Macedonia’s soccer federation sees the national team at a unifying force that transcends ethnic differences. During a period of “antiquitisation” a decade ago, a nationalist government rebuilt the capital Skopje with neoclassical monuments that supposedly evoked Alexander the Great’s Macedonian kingdom. You can see a statuesque Alexander raising his right fist behind the middle-aged fan sitting on the grandiose fountain. The remade Skopje has been called “the Disneyland of the Balkans”. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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Futsal pitch in Al Kharsaah, a village in Qatar located in the municipality of Al-Shahaniya, approximately 80 km west of the capital Doha. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Qatar fans during national team training at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd Club. Qatar, 2022.
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Qatar fans during national team training at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd Club. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Indoor field of Hamar team. Iceland, 2018.
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Indoor field of Hamar team. Iceland, 2018.

© Matteo De Mayda - Training of the youth female team of FC COOL, Skopje. North Macedonia, 2020.
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Training of the youth female team of FC COOL, Skopje. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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Rahman, 25, born in Qatar is a chemical engineer and supported the national team during the World Cup. In the background, the Katara Towers in the Lusail Marina District. Built in 2022, it will boast two luxury hotels, as well as apartments, offices, shops and restaurants. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Štip (North Macedonia), May 2021 - Viktorija, 25, a fan of the national team. North Macedonia, 2020.
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Štip (North Macedonia), May 2021 - Viktorija, 25, a fan of the national team. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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An F.K. Vardar fan wears her passion on her shirt, and her arm. Many of the teams in Macedonian soccer are defined by their ethnic ties, and violence between ultra groups can run along those lines. In June 2018, a Vardar Skopje fan was killed in broad daylight at a bus stop; two fans of Shkupi, a team from an ethnic Albanian neighborhood in the capital, ended up in prison. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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Mohammed Ayman Sultan, 25, played in non-professional football as a winger. He supported Qatar and Brazil at the World Cup. In this photo he poses next to two giant air conditioner units. Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors. The total cooling capacity of the country is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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Twins from Lybia Ithaar, 13, and Amaana, 13, both midfielders. Here they poses during the tournament “Grassroots Girls U12 to U14 Shero Cup” at Qatar Foundation. Education City, a stimulus for women’s football in Qatar. Women and LGBTI people continued to face discrimination in law and practice. Women in Qatar continued to face severe discrimination and violence due to abusive male guardianship policies. While the government formally encourages female footballers to take on football, society still considers it an inappropriate sport for them. Many female footballers resort to playing for university teams, a way to follow their passion without getting into conflict with their families. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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The ÍBV women’s football team during a training in Heimaey, an island of four thousand inhabitants in the Vestman archipelago. Iceland, 2018.

© Matteo De Mayda - Tribune of the stadium of FK Belasica, Strumica. North Macedonia, 2020.
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Tribune of the stadium of FK Belasica, Strumica. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - In Iceland. football is the second most popular sport among women after team gymnastics. Iceland, 2018.
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In Iceland. football is the second most popular sport among women after team gymnastics. Iceland, 2018.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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The air conditioning system inside the Lusail Stadium. Small vents push cool air at ankle level inside the stadium. Qatar is one of the hottest places on earth and has seen average temperatures rise by over 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past century. The 2015 Paris Climate Summit said it would be best to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius to limit the damage of global warming. Qatar, 2022.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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Mateo, 8, a young North Macedonia fan in front of the Archaeological Museum of Republic of Macedonia. During a period of “antiquitisation” a decade ago, a nationalist government rebuilt the capital Skopje with neoclassical monuments that supposedly evoked Alexander the Great’s Macedonian kingdom. The remade Skopje has been called “the Disneyland of the Balkans”. North Macedonia, 2020.

© Matteo De Mayda - Image from the The First Time photography project
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The 80,000-seater Lusail Stadium was designed by Foster + Partners, which hosted 10 matches, including the final. Following the tournament, the majority of seats will be removed and the stadium will be transferred into a community center. A school, health clinic, cafe, and housing will be built under the stadium’s roof, along with a community football pitch. Seven out of eight stadiums in the World Cup have an air conditioning system. Inside the bubble, players and fans were kept at 21o Celsius by jets blasting air at the pitch side and under spectators’ seats. Sensors around the stadium keeped the temperature constant and even adjusted air flows for seats in the shade or sun. Qatar, 2022.