City Blogger: Football in the UAE
- 22 May 2014 09:30
- Posted by @ThomSoutter26
Having lived in the UAE for a while now I have found that despite the endless stream of matches from back home on the television, my thirst for live football needed to be quenched.
So I wanted to discuss two recent events that started to satisfy the “live experience”. Firstly, over the course of the season, I have adopted a team called Al Ahli, who play in Dubai, as my ‘expat’ team of choice.
Now Al Ahli, as it happens, have been enjoying a particularly successful season. Recently crowned League Champions they were also chasing glory in all domestic avenues, with places in both the domestic cup finals on the horizon.
So, excitedly, I decided to make the pilgrimage from Dubai to a place called Al Ain (about 90 minutes away) to watch the UAE Arabian Cup Final, aka the League Cup final to you and me. The stage was set and for once out here the game had received some much needed publicity, with articles in the local newspapers. However, the crowd at the matches in the UAE is very much local and the western support has yet to develop fully, although there is hope that this will change as the league continues to establish itself.
Al Ahli boast ex Newcastle player Hugo Viana in their ranks, along with Grafite (an ex Brazilian international and former player of the year in the Bundesliga), whereas the day’s opponents, Al Jazifa had a burly centre forward known to us Blues…..Felipe Caicedo.
The stadium, a newly built arena, was modern in every way and with the purple lighting emanating from each side of the building, was extremely reminiscent of the home of Bayern Munich. We were given free tickets upon arrival and entered the stadium as advised. Upon enquiring as to where we could purchase a beverage prior to kick off, we were ushered into the VIP part of the stadium and given free food/drink to enjoy!
The game itself was very much a game of two halves, with Al Jazira leading at half time through a penalty, but then a never ending sea of Al Ahli attacks in the second half eventually turned the tide, with Grafite bagging an equalizer before a winner 10 minutes from time.
The crowds are passionate and the scenes at the end showed that football here is beginning to blossom and certainly people feel affinity with their club of choice.
Certain aspects of the football scene are still to match back home but I have to say that 12 or so people, most in full national dress, taking it in turns to invade the pitch (peacefully I may add) and run rings round the stewards was worth the admission fee alone.
Football whilst abroad is certainly an interesting pastime, as each culture and nationality administers their own flavour on the beautiful game.
Now imagine the excitement a few weeks later when it was confirmed that Manchester City FC would also be playing in that same Hazza Bin Zayed stadium! I once again made the journey to see the newly crowned Champions in action.
The local youngsters had been eagerly anticipating the clash, with a huge variety of City merchandise on show and even local traders selling t-shirts and mugs emblazoned with ‘I was there!! Al Ain v City 15/5/2014’, which to an ardent Blue is highly amusing I have to admit. There have often been times when we all wished we hadn’t been there!
The game itself was entertaining, with the local outfit (themselves with a cup final on the horizon) giving it a good go and the crowd lapping up every City attack.
City, through ownership, now very much have a home in the UAE and it is a link that seems destined to grow. The evening ended, after a City 3-0 victory, with a firework and trophy display, celebrating our champions.
City have forged links in recent times with teams in Melbourne and there will soon be a new City plying their trade in New York. Judging from the growing interest, rapid development and improving standard of football in the UAE (along with City schools of training which are already prevalent in Abu Dhabi), perhaps it this will progress further in years to come. I, for one, would be delighted to see that happen.