Published — Tuesday 1 January 2013
Last update 31 December 2012 10:46 pm
On Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, a very important football match took place at Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Stadium in Al-Ahsa. The game was between two teams who are neck and neck in competition and both are aiming for the Saudi football championship. The match was between Al-Hilal from Riyadh and Al-Fateh from the city of Mubaraz in the Al-Ahsa oasis.
For me, this match was significant because a day before the match I was thinking about writing my next article on football and politics and I wasn’t sure about what should the title of the piece. But, during the match many of the spectators at the stadium and I noticed a handsome young American who was cheering for Al-Fateh Sports Club and was watching the match with great interest and following every player’s moves very closely.
It turned out that the handsome young man was the American consul general in Dhaharan, Joey Hood, who was there in the stadium with some of his associates. They drove 150 km to Al-Ahsa and were accompanied by Ibrahin Nur to watch the game. It is nice to see diplomatic missions participating at social functions and sport events.
Al-Fateh from Al-Ahsa won the match beating Al-Hilal 2-1. And just before the match, the Al-Fateh Sports Club had a lunch party for the consul general. The luncheon was hosted by the Al-Fateh administrative manager, Abdulaziz Alafaliq, who is an engineer and a very bright young man who graduated from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and has a master’s degree in business administration. Many top businessmen from Al-Ahsa were also present on the occasion. Many of them in fact have contributed to the success of Al-Fateh. The audience included Shiekh Abdulaziz Al-Mousa, Abdulmohsen Al-Jaber and Rashid Al-Rashid. The presence of the American consul general also reflected the historical and strategic relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
So, what about football and politics? The minute I saw the American consul general, many memories came back to my mind. The match reminded me of the rise of New York Cosmos in the late 1970s. The New York Cosmos was the story of American politics and football at it its best.
There was a time when the New York Cosmos was playing without being in the limelight. Not many people had heard of it and even the players didn’t like to play for it. The highest number of spectators was around five hundreds. And whenever I watched the New York Cosmos play, I spent my time not watching the game, but explaining the game for the fans sitting next to me. And one day, all that changed. The history of football in the US changed forever.
The New York Cosmos decided to take a gamble and decided to hire the most famous football icon, Pele. What assumes significance in the decision is that it was suggested by Warner Brothers president, Steve Ross. And at that time Pele was considering joining either Real Madrid of Spain or Juventus of Italy. America was far away from his mind.
At that time many Americans didn’t even hear about football. They called it soccer. Some Cosmos administrators asked: Who is Pele? But, Pele at that time didn’t think about joining Cosmos was a good idea. And out of the blue, the most known and most famous American politician, Henry Kissinger, persuaded Pele to join Cosmos. And all of a sudden, the Cosmos tickets were sold out long time before matches started with tens of thousands flocking to the stadium. And many Americans were there to see Pele. Years later, Henry Kissinger was the man behind the FIFA nomination of the 1994 World Cup to be held in the US. That World Cup broke every record with regard to ticket sales. All tickets were sold out for the event. It was a first in football history. So, Henry Kissinger didn’t only bring Pele to America, he made America one of the strongest teams in the world, not only for men, but also for American women. The American women football team won the World Cup in later years. So, yes, politicians can make football look good.
Now, we go back to Al-Fateh Sports Club. Football is the most popular sport in Saudi Arabia. And what is unique about Al-Fateh is that it always reminds me of the New York Cosmos. it started small without any fanfare, it took everybody by surprise.
Now, they have surpassed many Saudi sport clubs. The club is managed by very highly skilled and talented young men. They have combined sports with social contributions to the society and were able to help young boys think about sports as a good communication means.
In addition, the Al-Fateh Sports Club was able even to draw many fans from different nationalities. And the most notable is that it did it with a limited budget that was managed in a very professional way. The dedication and seriousness of the players make it fun to watch the game. Now, Al-Fateh Sports Club has a politician on their side, the American Consul General, Joey Hood. Just like as New York Cosmos had Henry Kissinger on their side.