It was mostly British colonisers who came to consolidate the political, economic and military interests of the motherland and did what they used to do: play football. Apart from spending their time, football worked as a colonial instrument both "civilising" and "disciplining" the colonised populations. The first clubs in North Africa and the Levant restricted membership for non-Westerners and non-whites, but soon football also became a transnational transmitter of independence movements, the stadiums becoming important social spaces on the local and national levels. Such was the emancipatory force of football that it has been preserved across the region ever since the colonial era, prominent again in the Arab Uprisings. However, the massive wealth of the Gulf States and their decision to invest in football's soft power has changed the equation. The article thus describes emancipatory and counter-emancipatory trends in MENA football history from a longue durée perspective.