Sunday 21st January
The Abu Dhabi Golf Classic was taking place, and so a morning was spent at the sumptuous Golf Club where this leg of the European (!) Tour was taking place. Watching the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia taught me to stick to playing at Woodthorpe Pitch and Putt. It was only on the way out that I saw the signs for an entry fee of 125 dirhams and no photography. Sorry!
A check of the tickets I had been given revealed that only one was for todays game the other was for the 23rd. So a pair of Adidas sports socks later and I had myself a V.I.P. ticket for Iraq v Bahrain. Reports from yesterdays games highlighted problems with the organisation and 10,000 fans locked out. Aware that today’s game was due to be played in a much smaller stadium the Al Wadha, 12,000 capacity. I decided to again arrive three hours before kick off. I immediately presented my ticket and enquired where I could gain entry with my ticket. I was directed to gate 5. I passed ever increasing crowds at turnstiles one and two and then as I turned the corner, people began running past me. Of course all the signage was in Arabic, but my usual crash course of learning numbers stood me in good stead as I could just make out the Arabic 5 above the crowded entrance in front of me. Not only was it crowded but it was locked. There was no way to the front and so I continued round the ground only to find further closed turnstiles. I made my way until I could get no further and joined an impatient throng. Hecklers were taken to one side and (I’m told) asked to stay calm and that inshallah, everyone would get in.
I slowly manouvered my way to the front and showed my ticket. The police just smiled and gestured that I should wait. With time marching on it was evident that the only way through was for the locals wearing the white dishdasha. After two hours, the gate before mine was opened and the crowd where I was eased, as some took up the challenge of entering that turnstile I decided to wait where I was and hoped that they would also open this one. With minutes to kick off and the other turnstile shut again, and no sign of mine opening I decided to survey the situation and retraced my steps back round the stadium. I went back to the main gate where I first enquired. I showed my ticket once again and was told to go to gate 1(!).
This gate was by now closed, but I showed my ticket and once again was asked to wait, as I heard the crowd roar and the game kick off I was ushered through, past an irate crowd as a V.I.P. Inside I was directed to an area of empty seating. It appeared the crowd was split into six, with a section of Saudi supporters immediately to my left awaiting their game later, followed by a small band of Bahrain supporters and then a large group of casually dressed Iraqi’s. Further round appeared to be a section of women and Children and then a section solely decked out in white dishdashas.
I heard that Iraq played well in their opening game, but unfortunately they did not live up to this billing, despite having the overwhelming support of the crowd with chants of Iraq, Iraq frequently ringing round the stadium. The Saudi’s were even giving out their green bibs to the Iraqi’s (both teams play in Green). A 1-1 draw was disappointment for Iraq who would have qualified for the semis with a victory.
After the first game the Iraqi’s disappeared and the Saudi’s become the dominant support in the stadium with definite competition (as you can hear below) for the muezzin heard the previous evening. Despite playing the ball around confidently and looking to threaten at regular intervals the Saudi’s went behind. They kept playing and equalised 20 minutes from the end. This gave them 4 points the same as Iraq with the teams due to play each other in the final group match.