Since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Cairo is a city that has become addicted to the art of protest. But this protest wasn't like any of the others.
Outside a smart hotel in the city, several hundred well-appointed young men had gathered to express their frustrations at the new Egypt. Their livelihoods had been decimated since the revolution, they argued. And direct action was the only cure.
Except these young men were not bakers, or cab drivers, or stockbrokers, or former regime allies. They were professional soccer players, out of work and unpaid ever since 74 young fans died in a tragic incident at a match in Port Said in February and the domestic league was suspended.
In desperation they had decided to make their voices heard by blockading a hotel where players from Nigerian club Sunshine Stars were staying. It was a few hours before they were due to play Egypt's biggest and most successful soccer team Al Ahly in an African Champions League semifinal second leg.
They thought that if they could prevent the match from going ahead, Al Ahly would be disqualified and the authorities would take their plight seriously. But it didn't quite work out that way.
"I heard shots ... at first I thought it was gunshots but it was tear gas shots," recalled Nigerian soccer journalist Colin Udoh, describing how the police had tried to deal with the situation.
"It was terrifying."
The players failed in their quest, but not because the police had cleared a path. That job had been achieved by a new group in Egyptian society that has entered the political conscience during the country's revolutionary times. It was members of the Ahlawy, an organized group of soccer fans -- known as "Ultras" -- who support Al Ahly that managed to escort the terrified players to the match.
"We only found out during rush hour that the players were having a march," said Mohamed, a member of the Ahlawy that led a group to "free" the Sunshine Stars players.
"We contacted each other by BBM and SMS and congregated. There were fights with the players. I think one of the players had a gun. They prevented the Sunshine players from going to the game. We had to let the game go on. We cleared the way for the bus."
The Ahlawy led the players to the bus and arranged an escort to the stadium.
"It is a unique position, to see fans with that much power," said Udoh.
"When the players were coming down the fans were applauding them. On the drive to the stadium 2,000 fans were lining the road applauding us. Inside the bus they didn't understand it. They thought they were angry with them."
Al Ahly won that match and reached this weekend's final of the African Champions League. It has been an emotional, tragic season for the club, one that has encompassed revolution, riots and death. And at the center of it all has been the Ahlawy, one of the last revolutionary forces left in Egypt today.
The group was formed in 2007, in the dark before the dawn, and is led by a man named Assad. Mubarak was as strong as he had ever been, winning a decisive victory in a recent Presidential election, even though massive fraud had allegedly taken place. His son Gamal was being groomed as his successor.
Egypt felt hopeless. I had met Assad outside the KFC on Tahrir Square, long before it had become synonymous with this revolution. He had agreed to escort me to Egypt's biggest match: Al Ahly versus Zamalek, the Cairo derby.
Assad was young, fresh faced and passionate, with designer glasses perched on his nose. He was in his early 20s, fiercely intelligent, educated in England, and drove a BMW.
The Ahly Ultras (they would not be known as the Ahlawy for a few years yet) had only just formed but they were sure who the enemy was back then: Zamalek and their own ultra group, the UWK: the Ultras White Knights.
Assad stood on the terrace with his gang of no more than a few hundred screaming abuse at the opposition. Tens of thousands of riot police stood between the two groups, impenetrable. Plain-clothes officers randomly hauled out supporters, taking them away to be searched. It felt like martial law had been imposed.
"The two biggest political parties in Egypt are Ahly and Zamalek," Assad explained at the time.
"It's bigger than politics. It's more about escapism."
Violence had been contained to the two fan groups. There was no political edge. Instead, away from the tightly-controlled derbies, fighting flourished. Youth team matches were marred by riots.
"There's always horrible fights there," admitted Assad.
But then something began to shift. The Ahlawy's numbers grew. More people found a place to express their frustration at the suffocating regime of Mubarak. Each game became increasingly more political and anti-authoritarian.
The next time I meet Assad was 61 days after the fall of Mubarak in 2011. He and 7,000 members of the Ahlawy crowded into one end of Cairo's Military Stadium for the restart of the Egyptian football league.