Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad Super Cup final in London shines light on passionate Saudi Arabian fans

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Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal fans inside Loftus Road during the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal fans inside Loftus Road during the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Ittihad fan outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Hilal fans outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Ittihad fans outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
Updated 20 August 2018

Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad Super Cup final in London shines light on passionate Saudi Arabian fans

  • For the third time in four years on Saturday, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) staged the Super Cup final in West London
  • Some fans traveled from Riyadh wearing the blue of Al-Hilal, others from Jeddah sporting the famous yellow and black stripes of Al-Ittihad

LONDON: There is a debate raging in England right now about whether or not the Premier League should consider staging some of its matches abroad. It comes on the back of the news that Spain’s top flight will stage matches in the US and Canada.
Saudi Arabia, however, are way ahead of the pack on that front. They began exporting their game a few seasons ago. For the third time in four years on Saturday, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) staged the Super Cup final in West London and the supporters lapped it up. Many arrived outside the Loftus Road stadium more than four hours before kick-off just to be part of the buzz on the streets, to the sample the build-up to the clash between the two most decorated teams in the Kingdom. Between them, they have won the Saudi Pro League title 23 times.
The residents of South Africa Road would have thought they were in for a quiet Saturday night, what with Queens Park Rangers playing away at West Bromwich Albion. But instead the area reverberated to the sound of Arabian drums as two sets of passionate fans created the kind of carnival and febrile atmosphere usually only associated with a London derby.
Some fans traveled from Riyadh wearing the blue of Al-Hilal, others from Jeddah sporting the famous yellow and black stripes of Al-Ittihad. Even neutrals from the large London expat community turned up.
“I support Al-Ahli,” said Abdullah Idroos, a 35-year-old from Yemen who works at the nearby Westfield shopping center in Shepherd’s Bush.
“I like the atmosphere of the Super Cup with the all the Arab fans together, so that’s why I came.”
He said he was supporting Al-Ittihad on the night because “I don’t like Al-Hilal — they win too many trophies.”
That may be the case, with Al-Hilal winning 15 league titles to Al-Ittihad’s eight, but that did not stop the Al-Ittihad fans teasing the supporters of the team in blue.
“Alamar sabah qawiah,” they chanted outside the stadium before kick-off. Roughly translated it meant “It’s hard and difficult for you” to accept that Al-Ittihad finished fourth at the Club World Cup in 2005, something Al-Hilal have not done. It was all in good humor and there was not a trace of the bitterness or even hostility you usually associate with football rivals such as these. Big derbies like this would usually see a sizeable police presence but there was not a policeman in sight before the game.
The good-nature of the rivalry was summed up by cousins Saad and Saad standing side by side, like brother’s in arms, one supporting Al-Hilal and one rooting for Al-Ittihad.
“We fight with each other during the game but afterwards, it’s no problem.” The transport workers came over especially from Khobar, combining a holiday and taking in the game.
“The flights were expensive but it is better the game is in London because of the climate,” one of them said. “It is too hot in Saudi.”
The climate in the Kingdom — it was an average of 33 degrees on Saturday — was one factor but not the only one in transplanting the game 3,000 miles to London.
“We do it because it is good for our players to gather more international experience, to learn what it’s like to play in large overseas stadia, and of course, there is a large Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern population living and working in London,” said Luia Al-Subaiey, the General Secretary of SAFF.
There are around 300,000 Arabs living in London, but another, Bader Ali, came down by train from Oxford to catch the game. He is undertaking a three-month intensive course in English before returning to the Kingdom to study medicine.
“It’s good the game is here as there are lots of Saudis in London,” said the 19-year-old. “It makes a nice change as the games are always in Saudi. I’ve never been to a game here before so was really excited. I hear a lot about the atmosphere at English games.”
Bader’s favorite player is Carlos Eduardo so he would have been delighted the Brazilian scored the first goal of the game. Just as thrilled was Khalid Aiman. The 30-year-old IT Support worker at a school in North London turned entrepreneur for the day and had 165 pieces of Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad colored attire, including hats, wigs, flags and scarfs, flown over from a market in Jeddah. They sold very well. One blue-and-white hat was purchased by a passing Chelsea fan. He paid for the hat with his ticket for the Super Cup game. “I managed to sell that on, too,” said Khalid.
It was the hottest ticket in town and even the ticket touts were doing a brisk trade.
“We couldn’t tell what it was going to be like as it was a bit of an unknown market for us,” said one tout.
“I’m surprised it’s not sold out. If we were down the road at Chelsea we’d probably be doing a roaring trade, but we’d probably get arrested there. This isn’t an official game so we are OK here. We’ve sold quite a few.”
Those not lucky enough to get a ticket would have tuned in from the Kingdom. Nawaf Al-Marscad was dispatched from Riyadh by Dawri Plus to cover the game.
“It’s a massive game in Saudi,” said Al-Marscad. “It (would have been) watched by millions. These are two, big, big teams and it is a good chance to show London how good the Saudi game is.”
Amid a cacophonous atmosphere, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad served up a cracking match. Jorge Jesus, the Al-Hilal coach, has been there, done that and seen it all during his coaching his career but you just had to see his celebration at the final whistle, having seen his side win 2-1, to figure out how much winning the match meant to him and the jubilant Al-Hilal fans.
“It was amazing,” said Al-Hilal fan Mohamad, a 27-year-old graduate from King’s College. “We deserved to win maybe by four of five goals. I hope we can play here again as it was an amazing atmosphere.”


Australia salvage a draw in second Ashes Test at Lord’s, stay 1-0 ahead of England

Updated 24 min 39 sec ago

Australia salvage a draw in second Ashes Test at Lord’s, stay 1-0 ahead of England

LONDON: Australia defied the absence of star batsman Steve Smith because of a concussion and more devastating spells of pace bowling by Jofra Archer to hold out for a draw in the second Ashes Test against England on Sunday.
Set an improbable victory target of 267 off 48 overs at Lord’s, the Australians quickly slumped to 47-3 but a fourth-wicket stand of 85 between Marnus Labuschagne (59) and Travis Head (42 not out) helped push them to safety.
Australia lost three more wickets in a five-over stretch to keep the match alive as the light faded, but managed to survive to 154-6 at the end.
Australia retain a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
Labuschagne had an interesting day. He only found out he’d be playing as Test cricket’s first-ever concussion substitute when Smith was withdrawn from the team early Sunday after waking up with a headache and feeling groggy after being hit in the neck by an Archer bumper on Saturday.
Labuschagne came to the middle with Australia struggling on 19-2 after 5.3 overs and, off the second ball he faced, was hit on the grille of his helmet by another vicious delivery from Archer. The batsman dropped to the ground, was checked out by medical staff and required a new helmet.
In a blistering spell by Archer, balls flew past Labuschagne but he survived and looked more comfortable in the final session as England’s hopes began to dwindle at the home of cricket. He finally departed, somewhat controversially, when England captain Joe Root was adjudged to have got his fingers under a diving catch at midwicket from Labuschagne’s sweep.
It was Labuschagne’s second half-century in his sixth Test and he could stay in the team for the third Test starting Thursday at Headingley, with Smith’s availability in doubt.
With Australia currently holding the Ashes urn, the English need to win two of the final three tests to take it off their fierce rivals.
Archer’s performance at Lord’s on his test debut will give England real hope, though. He was a permanent menace, taking 2-59 off 29 overs in the first innings and then 3-32 off 15 overs in the second.
A day after flooring Smith with a vicious 92 mph delivery, the Barbados-born quick removed David Warner for 5 — his fourth straight single-figure score this series — and then Usman Khawaja for 2 to catches behind the wicket.
He peppered Bancroft and Labuschagne with missiles but they lasted until tea.
Bancroft (16) was trapped lbw by spinner Jack Leach early in the final session but England could only make further inroads when it was too late.
After Labuschagne’s departure, Leach removed Matthew Wade for 1 before Joe Denly produced a sensational one-handed catch at midwicket off Archer to take out Australia captain Tim Paine for 4.
Head, who was dropped on 22 by Jason Roy at second slip, persevered and Archer had to be withdrawn from the attack late on because of the poor light. He put his hat back on, and Australia’s players could breathe a sigh of relief.
Earlier, Ben Stokes brought up his seventh Test century before England declared their second innings on 258-5 — the same total the team was all out for in its first innings.
Stokes was unbeaten on 115 after hitting 11 fours and three sixes at the ground where he helped win the Cricket World Cup for England barely a month ago. Jonny Bairstow was not out on 30.
England resumed Sunday on 96-4 in its second innings and added 162 runs before declaring midway through the second session.