Ria Maria Jose
“Goal! Goal! Goal!” yells 10-year old Amir and jumps over, toppling over cups by his side as he is joined by the roaring crowd that’s gathered around the big screen. It’s well past eight but football fans from around Doha are devotedly gathered here undeterred by the cold evening and getting vocal for their teams.
After all, it’s the first match, and the games have officially begun with the first goal of the season.
On Tuesday, as the host nation Qatar played against Iraq and while the UAE clashed against Yemen, the 24th edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup officially kicked off to a glorious season at the Khalifa International Stadium. Fans, both locals and expatriates, are gathering around in parks, malls, hotels and restaurants to join in the cheer for their countries and the energy around the football frenzied country is electric.
This time, fans from across all participating Gulf countries have come along as supporters for their beloved players. “The true spirit of the game comes from the fans and their continuous support. Each goal, foul and kick is not just a game, for the fans, it is a feeling”, says Jose, an Indian expatriate who has been calling Qatar his home for more than twenty years now. For him, the football season here brings about a “different side” of Doha. And sure enough, Qatar had been preparing dedicatedly to host the region’s oldest and most prestigious football tournament, much ahead of the first game, attracted both visiting fans and tourists with various arts and cultural events.
Tintu, who is excited that her first visit to the country was during such an occasion, says the weather has been just perfect to invite anyone to stay outdoors all through the evening. The change in weather along with the start of the football season has definitely encouraged people to go outdoors and visit different venues around Doha.
But what makes football so special in Qatar? The country with a population of just under three million is home to numerous people from all around the world. But it is a shared sentiment when it comes to football, with a firm belief that it is their love for the game that has put Qatar on the map. Especially so, after their glorious AFC Asian Cup victory in February earlier this year, says Grace and Felix as they enjoy the evening match after work.
As the Qatar team made headlines with their brilliant action last time, the couple hopes to “see them bringing their A-game” into the matches this time around, too. The support for the home team is not as enthusiastic from the Kuwaiti and Omani fans as they furiously egg on their own teams for the upcoming matches. The two-time current champions of Oman aim to retain the title this year while Kuwaiti fans hope this year will mark their eleventh win.
As the excitement builds among the Arab fans, there is much hope for good things to come our way. The country is well ahead in paving the way for the FIFA World Cup in 2022, with monumental developments in transportation and infrastructure. Many are hopeful that this is also an opportunity for the Gulf countries to come together in peace after recent years of crisis. Who knows this celebration of a common sport may prove to be a saving grace for resolving the diplomatic impasse, too. In this regard, Zulfikar says, “there have been many problems since the blockade began. With all the Gulf countries coming together for football this time, we are expecting good news. With football, all the problems can be resolved.”
The football season continues to build the fanfare. In front of big screens, there are kids running around while the older generations sit along with others passing comments and sipping tea. There are women huddled around in a corner with their own worldview no doubt while an occasional passerby stops to catch a glimpse and then joins others in the frenzy.
Football creates a community of its own, uniting people of different ages, gender and race and it is reflected in the positive vibes shared by all. Even on various social media platforms, supporters pour in warm wishes, comments and predictions. They understand that their teams are in much need of every little support they can get, even if they cannot be there in person, and that their support and love is greatly appreciated.
Football fans in Qatar are determined for victory this year. It doesn’t matter if you have been an avid fan since the beginning or just joining fandom now, football spirit will catch you sooner or later as well, because football fans are unstoppable.
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