JEDDAH: One passionate Al-Ittihad supporter has taken his love for the Jeddah giants to impressive levels by transforming an old house into a museum to the eight-time Saudi champions.
Abdul Aziz bin Mahfooz has been a season-ticket holder at Al-Ittihad since the age of 14, and had hardly missed a game, home or away, before the coronavirus disease pandemic struck.
Since 2017, he has been busy curating a memorial to his beloved club, choosing a historical neighborhood in Jeddah to establish Al-Ittihad Fans Museum for the oldest sports club in Saudi Arabia.
Established in 1927, Al-Ittihad is still the only team to win back- to-back AFC Champions League titles, in 2004 and 2005.
“The popularity of Al-Ittihad in Al-Mazloum neighborhood is huge, and it is known that the neighborhood has provided many names that represented the club,” he said. “So, this is why I was encouraged to raise the idea of establishing this museum there.
“Later, I asked all my loved ones and Al-Ittihad fans to provide what they have of the club’s old items, and I found there was great enthusiasm and interaction from all, and that made me keen to complete the idea,” Bin Mahfooz, who works at a travel agency, added.
He has graced the museum with thousands of items such as the club’s new and old jerseys, flags, training kits, banners, scarves, mugs, hats, photos of great players and previous presidents of the club.
Bin Mahfooz says his love for Al-Ittihad is as old as his love for the game itself, roughly dating back to when he first attended a football match at the age of 12.
“I have been collecting memorabilia and other stuff from Al-Ittihad, I’d say, for more than 30 years, and at some point, my home was full,” he told Arab News.
The 48-year-old estimates that the museum’s contents, which he first started collecting in 1988, are worth double what he has paid for over the years. The various match shirts, original images and trophies are among the most valuable items, although he admits he’d never consider selling them.
“Every item has a different memory and story,” said Bin Mahfooz. “You have to know many people and reach them to get these items, and I went through so much effort to have them.”
Today, Al-Ittihad’s popularity extends well beyond its base in Jeddah and the Kingdom, and encompasses the Arab World as well.
“It is more than a club, it is a nation and known as ‘the people’s club,’ which is supported by millions of loyal fans,” Bin Mahfooz said of the team, which he inherited his love for from his father before him.
“All my family supports Al-Ittihad. My father passed on to me the true meaning of being a fan of Al-Ittihad, and I passed it on to my sons who became even bigger fans than I am.”
Bin Mahfooz worked on the museum for the last five years, and he and his team of volunteers worked around the clock to get it launched four years ago.
Since then, Al-Ittihad Fans Museum has been embraced by supporters, and is fast becoming a big attraction for tourists, players and football fans.
“The heritage and history of our football club needed to be at the forefront; young and old fans all have connection through our football team,” said Bin Mahfooz. “I always love seeing fans and tourists getting their picture taken inside our museum because all the items displayed are precious, but they are more precious being shared.”