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

1 / 10
Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal fans inside Loftus Road during the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
2 / 10
Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal fans inside Loftus Road during the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
3 / 10
Al-Ittihad fan outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
4 / 10
Al-Hilal fans outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
5 / 10
Al-Ittihad fans outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
6 / 10
Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
7 / 10
Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
8 / 10
Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
9 / 10
Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
10 / 10
Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
Updated 20 August 2018
0

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.”


Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

Updated 16 November 2018
0

Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

  • Riyad Mahrez signed for City in a $76.6 million move
  • All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a record-breaking side

MANCHESTER: It took eight games for Riyad Mahrez to show why Manchester City paid a club record £60 million ($76.6 million) for his services.
All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a side that broke records on the way to claiming the Premier League title last season.
The Algerian winger came off the bench just past the hour mark against Cardiff two months ago and slid home his first City goal from close range before curling in a second with a fine left-foot finish.
The brace provided lift-off for the 27-year-old and his confident displays since have quickly dispelled any doubts that he would struggle to adapt to a system under Guardiola that demands commitment as well as class.
For Mahrez, he has been working to fulfil this footballing dream ever since he was a youngster practicing his skills on the streets of Paris suburb Sarcelles, encouraged by his late father Ahmed.
“I’m proud,” he says of an inspiring journey that began professionally in the French Second Division with Quimper in 2009, then at Le Havre a year later, before joining Leicester City for just £400,000 in 2014.
“It’s not easy to arrive here (at City), to come to a club like this. You need to work very hard to get here and when you do it’s not the final thing.
“You still need to work even more, to perform, to be humble, and to try to go higher. Of course, I want to do even better.
“I didn’t feel any pressure when I came because of the price, I don’t think about this stuff.
“I’m feeling good now at City, playing good at the moment and we are winning games. But it’s not finished yet and we need to keep going. The season is very long and we all have to keep going like this.”
While Mahrez has already won the league title with Leicester during a fairytale 2015-16 season that also saw him crowned the PFA Player of the Year, he remains ambitious and convinced he can still improve.
A yardstick has perhaps been set by Liverpool’s Egyptian frontman Mohamed Salah, who took his game to another level with 44 goals last season, winning the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards and named third in the 2018 Best FIFA Men’s Player.
“Salah had a very good season. And we have a good team, we can score a lot of goals and I hope to do more, like he has done,” Mahrez told Arab News exclusively.
“But the most important thing is that we keep on winning as a team, and I’m going to try to help the team to do this, to score goals, make assists.”
The performances of Mahrez, who has claimed four more goals since the Cardiff match, and eight-goal Salah on Merseyside could well be integral to how their clubs eventually fare in this campaign.
Both teams are unbeaten in the league after 12 games with City two points clear of Liverpool, a lead confirmed by the impressive 3-1 win over neighbors United in the recent Manchester derby.
But Mahrez knows the mesmerising manner in which they have roared to the top will mean nothing if they are not there next May.
“The derby was special, a good atmosphere, a good win, I’m very happy,” he said after his first experience of the rivalry.
“But it’s not that because we beat United we are going to win the league. You can’t think like that, there’s still a long way to go and we have to keep focus.
“We have a good team, we are playing well. We just need to keep working hard for each other and we know we are going to be there at the end of the season. That’s the target.
“I won the title with Leicester, but I came here to win more trophies.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to win this or that, but of course this is a club that wants to win trophies. Win the Premier League, I don’t know. Win the Champions League, I don’t know.
“But we are going to make everything we can to try to do that. That’s the challenge for us.”